Booths and participants at the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC)
Booths and participants at the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC). This event was held Feb. 27-March 2, 2014 in Eugene, OR.

In order to educate and receive constructive input, NARA provides outreach to a full array of stakeholders. When the NARA Outreach team asked stakeholders which Pacific Northwest conference provided the best exposure to groups and individuals interested in environmental issues, the PIELC came highly recommended. So NARA manned a table at the event and provided information. This event celebrated its 32nd consecutive year of being what they claim as “the premier annual gathering of environmentalists in the world”.

The prominent topics on the agenda this year involved global warming, oil extraction, wolves and water. Of the 100 plus panels offered, five covered forest management issues and 2 covered the use of wood resources for bioenergy.  In 2013, this conference offered 9 panels on forest management and 3 wood-base bioenergy. Interestingly, there were no panels that discussed the use of forest residuals or plantation crops to generate simple sugars for chemical and fuel production.

One panel entitled, “Biomass Burning Battle Zones”, discussed the impacts of air pollution and herbicide spraying connected to using wood biomass to generate electrical energy. Gregory Pallesen, Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Vice President, served as one of the panelists. When asked what actions his association would like to see, he response was for changes in tax and trade policies to keep industry and jobs in the U.S. and more complete analysis regarding biomass availability.

Another panel entitled, “Bioenergy and Invasion Risk” explored Portland General Electric’s (PGE) proposal to create electrical energy from burning biomass at the Boardman Oregon power plant. This facility was previously designed to burn coal and plans to cease the use of coal by 2020. PGE estimates that as much as 8,000 tons of biomass would be required daily to operate the generator. The principal biomass feedstock considered is Arundo donax: a fast growing reed commonly known as “Giant cane”. Their proposal would encourage cultivating this species near the facility. Concerns regarding the proposal, expressed by the panel and audience, focused most on the invasive nature of Arundo donax, the potential displacement of food crops, and water use.

Attendee Reaction to NARA

Reaction to NARA’s efforts was mixed.  Many of the participants who visited the NARA table felt that using forest residuals would expand timber harvest and degrade forests. It was helpful to explain that residuals from federal forests did not qualify as a renewable resource under the Renewable Fuels Standards and that removing mature trees just for biofuel production did not make economic sense.  Additional interest was expressed regarding the amount of forest residuals needed to regenerate soil nutrients and hydration. NARA is funding research to address this uncertainty.

A presentation on environmental sustainability research funded by NARA can be found here.

The most receptive response was given to NARA’s efforts to enhance bioenergy literacy. A number of high school and university educators expressed a need for educational tools and student opportunities in this area.

To learn more about NARA’s efforts to improve bioenergy literacy, view here.