Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What the Midterm Elections mean for Thermal Biomass Policy

Volumes of opinion and analysis have been written on the results of the midterm election and what they mean for renewable energy policies going forward. Once mainstream policies for mitigating carbon emissions, like cap and trade, will likely be considered dead on arrival when the 112th congress convenes. However, the Farm Bill among other pieces of legislation could still move us toward comprehensive renewable energy and efficiency policy and could shift biomass solutions to the forefront.

One immediate impact of the election is that many of the most important committees will have new chairs (i.e. Senate Agricultural Committee) and some Congressional supporters of biomass will not be returning. AFGH has selected a number of outcomes and developments from the midterms that may have an impact on thermal biomass policies.

Mainstream consensus tells us that the upcoming lame duck session and 112th Congress will be defined by gridlock. This could especially be the case with environmental and energy policy. The upcoming House majority leader John Boehner has gone on record supporting intensive review and possible halting of EPA efforts to regulate green house gases.


A very different Congress will be reconvening in January. The Blue Dog Coalition, a group more likely to be opposed to comprehensive energy/environmental reform, experienced the biggest losses in the Democratic caucus. They saw their numbers reduced from 54 members to 26. Conversely, the Progressive Caucus now makes up a plurality in the Democratic House caucus, with 95% of their members returning. This ideological shift to the left within a wing of the Democratic Party could help thermal biomass.

The outcome of a number of specific races is worth noting. The election of Representative-Elect Charlie Bass (R-NH) who has indicated support for biomass in the past, puts another ally of biomass in that district’s seat.

Additionally, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) won reelection, as did Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Don Young (R-AK), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Michael Michaud (D- ME) and many others.


The Senate was an impediment to energy/environmental reform well before the election and Tuesday’s results would seem to only reinforce this. However, the likely shift in Republican Party behavior, from heel draggers to policy makers, means biomass could well be picked up as an issue with bi-partisan support if a compromise bill is drafted.

Former Rep. Hodes (D-NH) loss to Senator-Elect Kelly Ayotte is a big loss for the biomass movement. Rep. Hodes, who gave up his seat in the House to run for the Senate, was a supporter of thermal biomass and other strategies to stimulate rural jobs and slow climate change. On the campaign trail he reiterated this support for biomass. His opponent, Ayotte, has not yet signaled support for the thermal biomass industry.

As Congress prepares to re-authorize some $200 billion dollars in farm programs, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanch Lincoln (D-AR) lost her reelection bid. This opens up the top position on the Senate Agricultural Committee. A top candidate for this position is Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a proponent of renewable energy funding, including biomass. Additionally, Stabenow is considered to be less friendly to the ethanol corn lobby then former Ag Chair Lincoln. Tying biomass policy to the agricultural bill should be an essential goal of advocates hoping to see substantial government support materialize.

Champions of thermal biomass who won re-election include both Maine Senators, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Don Wyden (D-OR) and many others. Senator Murkowski, also very supportive of thermal biomass, has not yet been formally declared the winner in Alaska.

State Level Propositions:

One of the biggest developments of Tuesday’s election occurred at the state level in California with the rejection by voters of Proposition 23. This proposition, heavily funded by out-of-state oil industries and other wealthy interests, would have suspended implementation of California’s landmark climate change bill. It was considered by many environmentalists to be the most important initiative during the midterms and the rejection of Prop. 23 is a victory for the environmental movement and alternative energy advocates. California continues to be a leader in climate change mitigation and the failure of Proposition 23 will hopefully lead to other states following the Golden Gate State’s lead.


  1. That would be the 112th Congress, not 114th.