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Originally published Friday, February 11, 2011 at 3:01 PM

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Guest columnist

Biomass: a financially and environmentally sustainable way to manage the state's resources

Biomass can help us manage the state's resources sustainably, writes guest Peter Goldmark. By using limbs and tree tops that are normally piled and burned after harvest, we can create a new market that contributes to our growing renewable-energy sector and generates rural jobs.

Special to the Times

AS wind turbines pop up across the state and auto companies develop electric vehicles, it is becoming possible to imagine a future where our daily lives are powered by renewable energy resources rather than fossil fuels.

Even if all cars someday run on renewably generated electric power, there are some forms of transportation that will continue to need liquid fuels to operate. For the foreseeable future, heavy machinery and jet planes do not have an electric alternative.

One very attractive renewable alternative for liquid fuels is biomass: fuels from wood waste, forest trimmings and other biogenic sources (organic wastes and algae).

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages the state's public trust lands primarily to produce sustainable revenue for school and university construction and public services in many counties. Much of the revenue is generated by the sale of forest products from 2 million acres of state trust lands. Because of the Northwest's abundant supply of forest biomass, DNR has a unique opportunity to help foster an emerging forest biomass energy industry.

I am committed to moving forward carefully, guided by the three principles I outlined at the beginning of my administration: manage the state's resources sustainably; make decisions based on sound science; and make decisions in the public interest and with the public's knowledge.

First, biomass can help us manage the state's resources sustainably, both financially and from an environmental perspective. By using limbs and tree tops that are normally piled and burned after harvest, we can create a new market that contributes to our growing renewable-energy sector and generates rural jobs. Among the highest and best uses of this renewable resource is jet fuel.

Second, we will move forward with sound science to ensure that the use of biomass for energy will be a net gain to the environment. We are now working with two pilot projects to test our assumptions about biomass, one in Western and one in Eastern Washington. I have requested legislation that would create a third pilot project for the production of jet fuel from forest biomass.

In addition, we have partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and researchers at the University of Washington to carefully evaluate the potential statewide supply of sustainable biomass.

The Environmental Protection Agency has reconfirmed the probability that biomass energy from sustainably managed forests does not contribute to climate change. My goal is to create projects that are energy efficient, use a sustainable supply of biomass and protect the ecological health of our forest. As commissioner of public lands, I am committed to protecting the ecological health of our forest for future generations.

At the same time, we have no time to waste. If we let our fears about the challenges of renewable-energy technology stop us in our tracks, we will never achieve the very real environmental gains that these technologies offer. If we refuse to move forward with biomass, then the burning of more coal and fossil fuels will be the alternative. A renewable-energy future fulfills our state and national imperative to wean ourselves off imported oil.

Third, we will move forward in full view of the public. As we seek to create an economically viable and environmentally sustainable biomass industry, we must do so in the interest of all Washingtonians.

We have an amazing opportunity in front of us for creating a biomass-to-jet fuel industry by combining the traditional Washington industries of aeronautics and forest products. When we do, we can sustainably manage our public lands, create innovative industries and jobs, improve our environment, and generate more revenue for the trust beneficiaries.

Peter Goldmark is Washington state's commissioner of public lands.

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