Law of Unintended Consequences: Biomass Version
Just like all "pork".....
It sounded like a good idea: Provide a little government money to convert wood shavings and plant waste into renewable energy.
But as laudable as that goal sounds, it could end up causing more economic damage than good -- driving up the price of raw timber, undermining an industry that has long used sawdust and wood shavings to make affordable cabinetry, and highlighting the many challenges involved in decreasing the nation's dependence on oil by using organic materials to create biofuels.
In a matter of months, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program -- a small provision tucked into the 2008 farm bill -- has mushroomed into a half-a-billion dollar subsidy that is funneling taxpayer dollars to sawmills and lumber wholesalers, encouraging them to sell their waste to be converted into high-tech biofuels. In doing so, it is shutting off the supply of cheap timber byproducts to the nation's composite wood manufacturers, who make panels for home entertainment centers and kitchen cabinets.
The federal government can provide up to $45 a ton in matching payments to businesses that collect, harvest, store and transport biomass waste to an authorized energy facility. That means sawdust or wood shavings may be twice as valuable if a lumber mill sells them to a biomass energy company instead of to a traditional buyer.
This is bad news for the composite panel industry, which turns these materials into particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, and outranks the U.S. biomass industry in terms of employees and economic impact, with 21,000 employees and annual sales of $7.9 billion, according to 2006 U.S. Census data.
The biomass subsidy program could "wipe us out," said T.J. Rosengarth, the CEO of Flakeboard, the largest composite panel producer in North America. "You can say, 'I've made more alternative energy,' but at what expense?"
~"The Unintended Ripples from the Biomass Subsidy Program" in today's Washington Post, via Government Fiasco blog
MP: That's why it's called a "law."