Natural Resources: Woody Biomass Users' Experiences Provide Insights for Ongoing Government Efforts to Promote Its Use Page: 2 of 16
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Highlights of GAO-06-694T, a testimony
before the Subcommittee on Forests and
Forest Health, Committee on Resources,
House of Representatives
Why GAO Did This Study
The federal government is placing
greater emphasis on thinning
vegetation on public lands to
reduce the risk of wildland fire. To
help defray the cost of thinning
efforts, it also is seeking to
stimulate a market for the resulting
material, including the smaller
trees, limbs, and brush-referred to
as woody biomass-that
traditionally have had little or no
commercial value. As GAO has
reported in the past, the increased
use of woody biomass faces
obstacles, including the high cost
of harvesting and transporting it
and an unpredictable supply in
some locations. Nevertheless,
some entities, such as schools and
businesses, are utilizing the
material, potentially offering
insights for broadening its use.
GAO agreed to (1) identify key
factors facilitating the use of
woody biomass among selected
users, (2) identify challenges these
users have faced in using woody
biomass, and (3) discuss any
insights that these findings may
offer for promoting greater use of
This testimony is based on GAO's
report Natural Resources: Woody
Biomass Users' Experiences Offer
Insights for Government Efforts
Aimed at Promoting Its Use (GAO-
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Robin M.
Nazzaro at (202) 512-3841 or
Woody Biomass Users' Experiences
Provide Insights for Ongoing Government
Efforts to Promote Its Use
What GAO Found
Financial incentives and benefits associated with using woody biomass were
the primary factors facilitating its use among the 13 users GAO reviewed.
Four users received financial assistance (such as state or federal grants) to
begin their use of woody biomass, three received ongoing financial support
related to its use, and several reported energy cost savings over fossil fuels.
Using woody biomass also was attractive to some users because it was
available, affordable, and environmentally beneficial.
Several users GAO reviewed, however, cited challenges in using woody
biomass, such as difficulty obtaining a sufficient supply of the material. For
example, two power plants reported running at about 60 percent of capacity
because they could not obtain enough material. Some users also reported
that they had difficulty obtaining woody biomass from federal lands, instead
relying on woody biomass from private lands or on alternatives such as
sawmill residues. Some users also cited increased equipment and
maintenance costs associated with using the material.
The experiences of the 13 users offer several important insights for the
federal government to consider as it attempts to promote greater use of
woody biomass. First, if not appropriately designed, efforts to encourage its
use may simply stimulate the use of sawmill residues or other alternative
wood materials, which some users stated are cheaper or easier to use than
woody biomass. Second, the lack of a local logging and milling
infrastructure to collect and process forest materials may limit the
availability of woody biomass; thus, government activities may be more
effective in stimulating its use if they take into account the extent of
infrastructure in place. Similarly, government activities such as awarding
grants or supplying woody biomass may stimulate its use more effectively if
they are tailored to the scale and nature of the targeted users. However,
agencies must remain alert to potential unintended ecological consequences
of their efforts, such as excessive thinning to meet demand for woody
Examples of Woody Biomass Users GAO Reviewed
Pulp and paper mill.
Wood-fired heating facility at rural school.
,United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Natural Resources: Woody Biomass Users' Experiences Provide Insights for Ongoing Government Efforts to Promote Its Use, text, April 27, 2006; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc295140/m1/2/: accessed November 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.