August 2009 Archives

Happy Anniversary Petrolia

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Last week the 150th anniversary of discovering oil was celebrated in NW PA, aka Petrolia. We've come a long way and this article provides some backward and forward perspective. What is the generation of fuels? Have we reached peak oil? All debatable questions. I liked this quote from the Wired Science blog on the anniversary:

"At current consumption levels, Americans would blow through all the oil ever produced in Petrolia in less than three days."

Wood pellet industry in PA

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The wood pellet is a big part of the woody biomass movement. Here is a nice summary of the state of the market in PA

Green gasoline

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A video showing the potential of making gas from woody biomass

Leaders in bionergy

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China and the Nordic countries being proactive in bionergy production - read more

Hardwood Leaf ID Quizzes

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test yourself here

Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States: Identification and Control

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A great website with details and pics on about every invasive plant species you may encounter in your woods.

Counties debate property tax reassessments

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The one truism about PA local property taxes is that its unfair. Although I deal mostly with Clean and Green, the preferential tax for farmers and forest landowners, which is inherently unfair, this article discusses the wider issues of county-wide assessments. Some counties haven't reassessed property values for 40 years. This implies that property valued back them is undervalued compared to new properties built more recently.

Tree of Heaven - one of the worst invasives

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Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) - its a good fuelwood, anything else? Here is nice factsheet from our neighbors in Ohio on this scourge in our forests and how to eradicate it. Are all invasives equally bad - not at all. Should we be eradicating them all - not in my book. Obviously this will be too costly, and some have found niches in our ecosystems that are best just worked into management planning. I hear of stories where eradicating species resulted in something worse coming in. Invasive species management should be addressed not on wholesale state or federal regulations but on individual contexts of the invasive impact in the ecosystem. So what are your thoughts on invasives?

PSU Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center

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PSU extension is providing lots of educational support to deal with the impending 'gas boom' in our state. The latest is the Education and Training Center

There is a website with tons of information and at the publications link you'll find pubs about leasing, forest impacts, etc. And I'll tout a pub I helped prepare on Financial Management issues in dealing with the gas leasing, royalties, and taxes that is not yet up on that page but can be downloaded here ui394.pdf

Biomass plantations in the South - new technologies and issues

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So the South has fast growing plantations that make for nice energy wood. What about competition with the huge pulp markets? We'll answer that later. Needless to say there s lots happening there like planting genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees.
Euc Trial Permit Release2.FINAL.pdf

And this article talks about the potential but also the issues:

The tried and tested forest plantation concept in the Southern U.S. produces conifer wood because it is the backbone of the forest products industry for both pulp and lumber. The bioenergy plantation, however, will be more complex and many questions need to be addressed. Does the bioenergy stream allow bark, branches, leaves and wood or is only wood preferred? Does the bioenergy stream need higher lignin content typical for certain species and tree ages? What will be the usage of the ash in co-generation or single-source biomass combustion? How will the development of enzymes change the tree species or rotation age? What are the logistics of harvesting and transporting feedstock cost effectively?

Of course we have similar logistic, environmental and economic issues here. I think we need to adapt our forest management treatments. I like one of the ideas coming out the South:

This utilizes one row of wide spacing high-value genetics for saw timber (lumber) while the adjoining row is tightly spaced for bioenergy. This system will work with loblolly pine with a bioenergy harvest at six to eight years and a saw timber final harvest at 18 to 22 years, allowing farmers and forest landowners to increase the possibility of positive cash flow in the first years, capturing new markets for bioenergy and retaining existing markets for saw timber. 


Top ten bogus statements in the climate debate

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PA is on the cusp on a major change in rural life as the natural gas market explodes. Besides the environmental issues are revenue issues. Who will benefit? A new economic impact study by the Pennsylvania State University for the Marcellus Shale Committee and the Pennsylvania House Natural Gas Caucus entitled An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play says Marcellus Shale development will pump $14.17 billion into the state's economy in 2010 and create more than 98,000 jobs, while generating $800 million in state and local tax revenues.
EconomicImpactsofDevelopingMarcellus.pdf.

Using conservative assumptions for production, commodity prices and related factors, the study found the industry making the following current and future economic contributions to Pennsylvania:
  • Natural gas production had a $2.3 billion direct impact on Pennsylvania's economy in 2008, adding more than 29,000 new jobs and $240 million in state and local tax revenue. More than thirty-percent of all tax revenues remain at the level local.
  • The industry will contribute a cumulative economic impact to the state of $265 billion by 2020, along with nearly $15 billion in state and local revenue. The study includes direct, indirect and induced jobs, and economic activity from Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania.
  • Pennsylvania currently imports approximately 75% of its natural gas consumption. If Marcellus activity continues as expected, Pennsylvania could reverse its position as a natural gas importer to a net natural gas exporter by 2014.
Other interesting points from the study:
1. The a severance tax will increase the cost of the gas and we'll drive away business. In other blogs I've noted that most gas state have such extractive taxes. According the administration the extraction tax could produce up to $107 million a year. According the studies authors, one of the rationales for not having a tax is that the costs of removing water are higher then in other states like Texas (flat land). Its harder to move water and machines on our steeper slopes. What about WV?
2.  We should be harvesting a lot more on public lands to raise revenues. How sustainable is this approach and what are the environmental impacts? Maybe on state forests, but the Game Commission does not have that much sub-surface rights.

How much pollution can a tree absorb?

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As the debate on forests and climate evolves here is a  great article in the WSJ asks whether inaction does not cutting down a tree amount to curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, and how much should that inaction be worth?

Thee article looks at a 1,500 acre forest near Lake Tahoe, in California. Local authorities bought the forest to forestall development--not to save the planet. Then, they realized intact forests could be worth money thanks to new environmental rules.

Questions raised:

1. How to prove a tree really would have been cut down were it not for the sale of a carbon credit? (aka additionality) If the tree would have remained standing, then any carbon credit attributed to it wouldn't be providing a new environmental benefit, even though its buyer would be able to put more carbon dioxide into the air.

2. How to ensure that a tree that spawns carbon credits isn't later destroyed anyway (aka permanence). If a tree claimed as a source of carbon credits were cut down even a few decades later, then the carbon credits it had produced would be environmentally worthless.

Carbon, offsets, forests, and Congress - Preamble

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Are we on the threshold on major changes in energy policy with the climate bill debated in Congress now? Since, in the past, I've alluded to carbon offsets (emitters get pollution credits for investing in successful forest conservation) and the Waxman-Markey Climate bill, let me start to explain.

Its not simple. But as primer - within the Waxman-Markey bill, CO2 emissions can be offset from agriculture and forestry activities. Should we be happy? The agriculture community are ecstatic - USDA will run this program. Some environmentalists are concerned. They see offsets as a loophole to avoid actual emissions reductions. Another issue is the expected plethora of cheap forest offset credits lowering the overall value of carbon credits. Let the debate begin.

On this blog I plan to follow this debate as it evolves, focusing on forest implications. I have bit of a different take - I am concerned about offsets because its going to be damned difficult to measure, enforce and monitor. Stay tuned.

Our carbon footprint: Pruis vs. Prime Rib

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Not quite a forestry blog, but I thought its relevant since forests at central to the debate on climate change. For example deforestation accounts for about 20% of carbon emissions and carbon offsets from forests are a key part of the Waxman- Markey bill. And according to the UN, livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. And that's where our meat comes from. So the point of this Washington Post article to quote is:

Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius (PDF). A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week. That prompted Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to recommend that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere. The response was quick and vicious. "How convenient for him," was the inexplicable reply from a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. "He's a vegetarian."


Sedjo on biofuel policy and impact on our forests

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Roger Sedjo at Resources for the Future writes one of the more cogent  articles on biofuels and what need to watch our for. Among the key points:
On the Energy Act of 2007:
  • The wood required for the targeted 2022 biofuel feedstock would need to equal to 348 million cubic meters--fully 71 percent of the U.S. 2005 harvest.
  • The pressures and dislocations would be substantial. If the cellulosic mandates of the Energy Act are met solely by wood, U.S. and world raw wood prices would be about 15 percent higher in 2015, and 20 percent higher in the early 2020s, than they would be without the increased demand for wood for mandated ethanol production.
On the Climate bill in Congress now:
  • Congress is considering a bonus for green power, in which wood will get a large subsidy when used for electrical power generation. The subsidy being considered--together with the price pressures likely to be generated by mandated cellulosic ethanol--are large enough to disrupt wood markets by making energy use of wood competitive with traditional industrial wood uses...There is little question but that these subsidies would result in a spike in wood prices.
Of course not all ethanol and green power can and will come from wood but the forestry community needs to speak out about these impacts. We tend to agree with these policies without considering the effects on current markets and prices. I agree that we need energy wood markets but at what cost - subsidies and local economic impacts?  

5 estate-tax myths that won't die

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According to MSN money the estate tax repeal is officially dead. Although not versed in politics I tend to agree. The top options under consideration are to:
  • Make permanent the 2011 exemption, in which estates under $1 million escape taxation and the top tax rate is 55%.
  • Make permanent this year's $3.5 million exemption and 45% tax rate.
  • Index the $3.5 million exemption to inflation and cap the tax rate at 45%, which is President Barack Obama's proposal.
  • Raise the exemption to $5 million and cap the tax rate at 35%, as proposed by Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Now, reasonable people can disagree about which proposal is best, just as they disagreed about whether we should have an estate tax in the first place. Good arguments, though, require good information. Bad information distorts the debate, and there's far too much of the latter floating around about the estate-tax system. Here are some of the most persistent and misleading myths:

  1. Lots of people face the federal estate tax
  2. Average families are taxed twice
  3. The tax can be avoided
  4. The tax costs more to collect than it generates
  5. The tax endangers family farms and small businesses
Forest landowners note: If it stays at $3.5 million exemption (my pick) according the Tax Foundation only about 140 small businesses in the US get hit. In PA about 200 estates will be liable. I hope you sleep better.20