Bringing the Heat to Capitol Hill

The Pellet Fuels Institute board of directors will soon convene in Washington, D.C., for its fall meeting. Our board is excited about the opportunity to educate our elected policymakers about our industry.
By Tim Portz | September 30, 2019

The Pellet Fuels Institute board of directors will soon convene in Washington, D.C., for its fall meeting. The decision to meet on Capitol Hill was a strategic one, made earlier this summer at our annual conference as we discussed and debated the relative value of keeping a close eye on federal policy, as well as opportunities and threats to our business that hinge on decisions made in the beltway. For our members, it has often felt like market-boosting legislation moves forward at a snail’s pace, while poorly conceived regulatory burdens can appear quite suddenly. As frustrating as this is, we all agreed that a day spent darkening the doors of our elected representatives to educate them about our businesses, the value we add to the greater forest products industry, and the contribution the industry makes to rural economies was perhaps overdue. Our fall meeting provides a great opportunity to do so. We have largely viewed these visits as an educational tour, helping the representatives unfamiliar with our industry make more sense of who we are and what we do. Since that decision was made, however, the policy landscape has become more dynamic, and we may very well find ourselves asking for support for specific pieces of legislation that have a chance of being in play while we are in town.

Recently, an opportunity to move the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act has presented itself via a clean energy tax package being developed in both the Senate and the House. There are existing investment and production tax credits for technologies like wind, solar and biodiesel that have expired and need some resolution even if they are to enjoy just a one-year extension. These extenders packages present a potential vehicle to reintroduce the BTU Act, or the provisions contained therein. The current thinking is that these extenders packages have bipartisan support, and as a result, stand a decent chance of getting to a vote. For this reason, biomass heating advocates are keen to get the BTU Act in front of the committees responsible for developing these packages. In the House, this work is being done by the Ways and Means Committee, and our outreach work will be focused on the majority (Democratic) members. If an extenders package is going to get done and emerge for a vote, I’m told it will likely all come together in advance of our visits in late October. We’ll engage in targeted outreach with the Ways and Means Committee before our visits, but if an extenders package isn’t finished by late October, we’ll add this to a list of talking points.

Another piece of legislation that will figure into our discussions on Capitol Hill is the Wood Heater Emissions Reduction Act. The bill, reintroduced in late July by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, seeks to replicate the success of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act in home heating by annually allocating $75 million for the replacement of old wood stoves with cleaner-burning models, including pellet appliances. This commonsense bill has the support of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, American Lung Association and Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management. If passed, the U.S. EPA would work with states and tribal authorities to build programs to incent people to engage with stove change-out programs. Fully funded, the program could generate 50,000 $1,500 grants annually. If passed, our work would turn to ensuring that the clean-burning attributes of wood pellet appliances were well-understood by state air regulators, as a reading of the bill itself suggests that state agencies will be tasked with designing and deploying change-out programs. Those familiar with change-out programs know that often, rebate and grant levels vary between fuel types, and it’s vital that pellet appliances enjoy parity with other fuel types in any program.

While opinions vary within our membership as to our ability to move the needle in Washington, D.C., our board is excited about the opportunity to educate our elected policymakers about our industry. How the timing of our visit works out with regard to these and other legislative opportunities remains to be seen, but we’ll prepare as though we’ve got an opportunity to finally get some of these long-sought-after, market-expanding policies across the goal line.

Author: Tim Portz
Executive Director, Pellet Fuels Institute