Speaker Biographies

Renewable Energy for the 21st Century
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton

[Introduced by Rebecca Watson]

More pictures of Secretary Norton at the Bioenergy ConferenceThank you Rebecca.

Thank you all for being here and for participating in this very important conference. I am honored to join you and to discuss a subject that is important to you and one that has had my enthusiastic support during my term as Secretary of the Interior.

By now you have all heard that I will leave my post as Secretary of the Interior, effective the end of March. I am looking forward to transitioning from standing in windowless hotel conference rooms to talking about forests to hiking and camping and watching the wildlife outside in forests. Given that short time frame, I am only focusing on topics of highest priority.

I am enthusiastic about the development of biomass energy as renewable energy resource, but I am especially enthusiastic because of its direct impact on our efforts to reduce catastrophic wild fires and restore our forestlands.

The President’s Healthy Forests Initiative, the National Fire Plan and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act all call for biomass utilization as an integral component of restoring our nation’s forests, woodlands, and rangelands and protecting our homes and communities from catastrophic wild fire.

Over the past several years we have made a great deal of progress in our efforts to increase the development and use of renewable energy sources, especially biomass.

Looking back at the State of the Union, this audience is one few places where other people had the same reaction –their favorite part of speech was when the President talked about “wood chips”. When discussing the speech with other Cabinet officials a few looked at me strangely when I spoke so enthusiastically about this portion of it. But I know another key person certainly shares my enthusiasm – a few years ago when I went to Oregon with President Bush to announce HFI, President Bush spoke from the heart and with real understanding. He said, “I need to restore our forests.”

We helicoptered around a raging forest fire and saw billows of smoke and trees exploding into flame. The President talked with tired firefighters. He walked through an area where a catastrophic fire in thick timber had destroyed the growing plants, the seeds, the vegetative matter in the soil – all the traces of life in that zone. But nearby we walked though another area where a previous forest thinning project had reduced the fuel load, reducing the fire’s intensity to a cleansing, natural type of fire. It left some trees alive; clean forest would soon regenerate. The President understands from managing his own ranch, clearing brush with his own hands --- giving him a much better understanding than me.

There needs to be a vision moving forward for forests to be well and actively managed. Forests cannot remain unmanaged, a policy of suppression, with homes in the forest. There has been a major shift in policy by profiling foresters, biologists realizing monocultural habitat is not natural.

We are implementing change now via taxpayers funded forest thinning. There is a need for a self-sustaining mechanism.

Biomass offers a virtually endless supply of energy by controlling invasives like Tamarisk. Timber production can be compatible with a well managed forest, but this policy is sometimes controversial if big trees are involved. Biomass economically uses smaller wood. Using wood chips – mixed with coal for the electric generation; is efficient combustion for heating office buildings and transportation fuels.

First we need to embrace the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative as outlined in his State of the Union. The President made it clear that renewable energy sources, including biomass, must play a larger role in the nation’s energy future. His comments built upon earlier recommendations and actions taken by the Administration to advance the use of renewable energy sources as part of our national energy portfolio.

How do we make this vision a reality? [PAUSE]

How do we accomplish the goals that we establish? [PAUSE]

We do it by building partnerships. It takes the coordinated efforts of a variety of entities like the organizations that each of you in this room represent to ensure success. We do it by working together to build a new harmony between our energy needs and our environmental concerns.

We do it by working aggressively with communities and local officials to promote and encourage the development and use of our domestic renewable energy sources. Energy production and environmental protection are not competing priorities. Our national energy strategy includes not only enhancing supplies of renewable and traditional energy, but also places an important focus on conservation.

When I met with you two years ago, I announced that the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior would work with the National Association of Conservation Districts to improve our communications efforts and to get information out to rural communities about the development and use of biomass energy.

In June 2004, the federal partners signed a Cooperative Agreement with the Conservation Districts. The agreement was designed to engage citizens in the importance of hazardous fuel reduction and how these hazardous fuels treatments would help to protect communities from wildfire.

This agreement allows us to work collaboratively to encourage the utilization of woody biomass by-products from the restoration and thinning of hazardous fuels treatment projects.

Last September the Bush Administration convened a Cooperative Conservation Conference in St. Louis. This first of its kind conference helped focus community conservation efforts and strengthened our partnerships across the nation.

As a result of that important conference, I believe local communities now have a better understanding of biomass utilization and also understand how it can contribute to the local economy by providing jobs while involving communities in sustainable resource management.

There is now a heightened interest in the use of biomass to develop energy. For example, the clean-up efforts from Hurricane Katrina and Rita provided a high level of interest in the use of residential and forest debris for use as bioenergy and for the development of wood products.

The Western Governor’s Association has developed a Clean and Diversified Energy Advisory Committee to recommend policy initiatives for 30,000 megawatts of clean energy and energy savings in the West by 2015. The supply analysis indicates that this initiative could provide enough electricity for more than1million western homes.

We are working with the state and local communities to help develop biomass. For example, the Bureau of Land Management is working with other federal land management agencies and the Renewable Energy Division of Idaho to secure a sustainable supply for a new 19 megawatt biomass plant in Emmett, Idaho.

By-products from restoring BLM juniper woodlands and forest lands in southeast Idaho will supply this plant. This co-generation lumber mill should be functional by the end of this year (2006). The BLM is also working with Bennett Forest Industries to establish a woody biofuels energy generation plant at their new lumber mill. Bennett Forest Industries is installing a new boiler for co-generation to be used for lumber drying kilns.

In Anchorage, Alaska, we are working to retrofit the heating system at the Campbell Creek Science Center to use biomass in addition to natural gas. Once the project is completed, biomass will be the primary fuel and it will come from trees that were killed from bark beetle infestation.

 In Alturas, California, the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, state and private land owners, as well as Modoc and Lassen counties are developing strategies to restore sagebrush steppe ecosystems, which call for the use of biomass taken from 400,000 acres of juniper/sagebrush steppe communities. An interagency team will complete the environmental impact statement this fall.

In Medford, Oregon, the BLM efforts have yielded more than 9,000 tons of biomass annually from hazardous fuel reduction projects, restoration activities, and timber sales. The Applegate Partnership is exploring a five megawatt energy plant which could use all of this material. The partnership includes local communities, government leaders, environmental groups, local contractors, emerging entrepreneurs, and the timber industry

Here in Colorado at the Royal Gorge, the BLM is treating 300 acres over the next five years under two stewardship projects. The projects will provide biomass to Aquila Power Plant which has been burning 7-8 tons per day for the past 6 months. Aquila Power may produce two megawatts of green energy from BLM biomass. BLM is also working with Colorado Wood to find markets for pinyon.

An important part of Interior’s forestry activities is the Indian Forest Development program. This program generated $290 million in receipts to the Tribes from 2001 to 2004, providing economic opportunities, community development and jobs related to wood product development.

In recent years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Energy and Minerals Development funded nine biomass utilization projects with the Tribes.

There are several grant and loan programs available to the Tribes. One example is the Indian Energy Grant Program which includes potential woody biomass projects; and the BIA Loan Guaranty which can guarantee up to 90 percent of the loan.

In addition to the brief summary of projects I just mentioned, BLM is also working with the Forest Service, state agencies, and private landowners to reduce hazardous fuels and provide woody biomass to heat public facilities.

The interest in utilizing woody biomass has greatly increased. Many rural areas are now looking for information about process and the technology necessary to help them reduce their energy costs for heating and cooling.

Biomass utilization systems are being constructed and are in use at the Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown, Montana; the Kellogg Public School in Kellogg, Idaho; the Northern Regional Corrections Facility in Carson City, Nevada, and the University of Montana-Western Campus in Dillon, Montana.

The Bush Administration is committed to improving the health of our forests and rangelands, and managing our forests to reduce the threat of wildfire to communities and natural resources.

We are also committed to making the by-products of forest treatments available for use, which will hopefully reduce our treatment costs, help to stimulate economic growth and vitality in the rural communities of the west and diversify our energy supply.

We are excited about the challenges ahead in the development of biomass to help supply some of our energy needs. We are excited about the opportunities to share the knowledge and technologies for utilizing biomass to improve the country’s landscape in fire-threatened communities across the nation.

President Bush has placed a high priority on ensuring affordable, reliable, and clean sources of energy for Americans. I ask each and every one of you to embrace the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative. I ask you to continue your work together to increase the development of our renewable resources, especially biomass.

The future holds many challenges for the development and use of biomass. But because of all your hard work, dedication and professionalism, the future gets brighter every day.

We are committed to managing well the resources entrusted to us. We will meet our environmental responsibilities in a manner that best reflects the innovative nature of our nation.

We deeply appreciate your interest in the development of biomass and your efforts to ensure that all stakeholders have a greater role in how to protect the nation = s landscape and natural resources.

Thank you!