Justice and Law Enforcement:

The Nation's Unused Wood Offers Vast Potential Energy and Product Benefits

EMD-81-6: Published: Mar 3, 1981. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 1981.

Contact:

Michael Gryszkowiec
(202) 275-7756
contact@gao.gov

 

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Immense quantities of wood residues are wasted in the United States in the form of decaying logging residues and dead trees, unused wood processing residues, and large, untapped acreages of small, defective, and other lower value trees. Wood residues could be an important energy source. A study was made of federal policies that are contributing to this lost potential.

GAO identified numerous factors standing in the way of greater use of wood residues for energy and products. These barriers include: (1) inadequate data on the volume, location, accessibility, and availability of forest residues; (2) lack of economical and effective equipment for harvesting and transportation of residues; (3) lack of investment capital needed for harvesting and using residues; and (4) limited awareness and acceptance of wood energy and product technology among industrial firms, utilities, and state and local bodies. Other obstacles pertain to federal forest management policies and programs, utility practices and regulations, and environmental concerns related to greater use of residues. The Forest Service and the Department of Energy (DOE) have made little progress in developing a national wood residue plan. The agencies should make a number of residue assessments in operating areas which are defined in terms of key factors such as topographical features, transportation corridors, economic hauling distances, and landowner attitudes. The Forest Service should take the lead in accomplishing the needed assessments. DOE should be an active participant in the studies. The assessments must deal more with resource management problems than end-use technology questions.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should conduct a cooperative program of assessments in at least six locations around the country. The Secretaries should select the areas they believe hold the most promise for increased use of residues based on estimates of residue availability and cost and availability of competing energy sources. Specific information to be developed through assessments should include: (1) the cost of making detailed residue inventories in each assessment area, with projections of costs to make such inventories regionally and nationally; (2) the volumes of wood residues that are potentially available in each area and the costs to collect and remove them using conventional equipment; (3) the specific needs for improved equipment to lower collection and removal costs; (4) the benefits and costs of, and alternative federal roles in stimulating, greater removal and use of wood residues by modifying or initiating a number of possible forest management policies and programs on federal, state, and private lands and encouraging private investment in new or modified facilities to use wood residues; and (5) the extent of, and alternatives for reducing, additional barriers to residue use caused by utility practices and regulations, air pollution regulations, and other factors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not consider this to be a high priority area at this time due to the drastically reduced price of oil and other fuels. As a result, this recommendation is not actively being pursued at this time and it does not appear that it will be in the forseeable future. Since DOD and GSA have not acted on this recommendation, DOE feels it should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should: (1) convert all Department facilities to wood fuels for all or part of their heating/power needs where life-cycle evaluations show them to be cost-effective; and (2) identify and evaluate additional opportunities to demonstrate wood-energy technologies at Department facilities in order to enhance the prospects for future economic feasibility of such technologies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should establish a program to promote use of wood fuels among industry, utilities, and state and local bodies through increased participation in demonstration projects and the provision of educational materials and direct technical assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should establish a program to promote use of wood fuels among industry, utilities, and state and local bodies through increased participation in demonstration projects and the provision of educational materials and direct technical assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should work jointly to develop standardized methods for evaluating the costs and benefits of using wood fuels in federal facilities, including allowance for forest management benefits, and submit these methods to the Office of Management and Budget within 6 months for dissemination to the executive branch to ensure consistency in life-cycle energy evaluation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed standards but wood was not included.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should work jointly to develop standardized methods for evaluating the costs and benefits of using wood fuels in federal facilities, including allowance for forest management benefits, and submit these methods to the Office of Management and Budget within 6 months for dissemination to the executive branch to ensure consistency in life-cycle energy evaluation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service has inventoried its buildings for wood energy opportunities; however, its budget has been cut in this area. The Forest Service considers this a dead issue. GAO may activate it pending the results of the Forest Service four assessments.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should work jointly to implement an accelerated program to develop and demonstrate residue-handling equipment in cooperation with private industry.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should work jointly to implement an accelerated program to develop and demonstrate residue-handling equipment in cooperation with private industry.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No formal action has been taken to accelerate the program because of the cutback in funding, and no future funding is anticipated. Normal efforts to evaluate and develop such a program will continue.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should present to Congress within 2 years a national wood residues plan, including proposed residue use goals and recommendations for legislation or other actions to overcome barriers to such goals. It should be supported by data on regional variations developed through the residue assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service will use the results of the four assessments in developing future actions on wood residues. However, this may not occur until energy prices for oil, natural gas, etc. rise again so that wood residues would be a feasible energy alternative. As a result, no action in this area is planned for the forseeable future.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should: (1) convert all Department facilities to wood fuels for all or part of their heating/power needs where life-cycle evaluations show them to be cost-effective; and (2) identify and evaluate additional opportunities to demonstrate wood-energy technologies at Department facilities in order to enhance the prospects for future economic feasibility of such technologies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service has performed evaluations of its facilities, and some have been converted to wood fuel; however, this is now a low priority project with no funding. According to a Forest Service representative, prospects for the program are bleak. GAO may activate this pending the results of the Forest Service's four assessments.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should upgrade the forest survey to provide an inventory of the potentially usable biomass of all trees and woody shrubs, logging residues, and dead trees on the nation's commercial forest lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service is continuing to survey potential useable biomass in its trees and has published the results in a report, "Weights of Trees." It plans to publish another volume, and this technology will be included in its inventory process for biomass. This process has been integrated in the Forest Service procedures; however, it takes time to cover the United States.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should conduct a cooperative program of assessments in at least six locations around the country. The Secretaries should select the areas they believe hold the most promise for increased use of residues based on estimates of residue availability and cost and availability of competing energy sources. Specific information to be developed through assessments should include: (1) the cost of making detailed residue inventories in each assessment area, with projections of costs to make such inventories regionally and nationally; (2) the volumes of wood residues that are potentially available in each area and the costs to collect and remove them using conventional equipment; (3) the specific needs for improved equipment to lower collection and removal costs; (4) the benefits and costs of, and alternative federal roles in stimulating, greater removal and use of wood residues by modifying or initiating a number of possible forest management policies and programs on federal, state, and private lands and encouraging private investment in new or modified facilities to use wood residues; and (5) the extent of, and alternatives for reducing, additional barriers to residue use caused by utility practices and regulations, air pollution regulations, and other factors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not consider this to be a high priority area at this time due to the drastically reduced price of oil and other fuels. As a result, this recommendation is not actively being pursued at this time and it does not appear that it will be in the forseeable future. Since DOD and GSA have not acted on this recommendation, USDA feels that it should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, to help promote wood residue use in locations where current air pollution regulations preclude such facilities, should develop policies and procedures that: (1) recognize emission trade-offs resulting from reduced burning of residues in the woods or in other locations and increased burning at proposed wood energy facilities; and (2) allow such trade-offs to be considered in deciding whether a woodburning facility may be constructed and what type of pollution control equipment will be required.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA disagreed with this recommendation because it does not consider the best available control technology requirements to be a major obstacle to construction of wood-burning plants. It cited at least four such plants which have received construction permits in the Pacific Northwest.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should request legislation to amend the Clean Air Act to allow full recognition of trade-offs in facilities siting decisions. The Administrator should encourage the states to modify their policies, where needed, to recognize such trade-offs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA stated that its policies already allow trade-offs to be considered in facilities siting decisions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of General Services should ensure, in implementing existing policies for conversion of their heating/power systems from oil and natural gas to alternative fuels, that wood is given equal consideration with coal in forested regions of the country. A canvass of wood conversion opportunities at all such facilities should be made to later be tested by the standard feasibility evaluation methods developed by the Forest Service and DOE. They should also issue procurement guidelines pointing out that, because of their value in meeting national energy goals, residue-based wood products be carefully considered as alternative materials for all construction and related applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not consider this to be a high priority area at this time due to the drastically reduced price of oil and other fuels. As a result, this recommendation is not actively being pursued at this time and it does not appear that it will be in the forseeable future. Since DOD and GSA have not acted on this recommendation, the recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of General Services should ensure, in implementing existing policies for conversion of their heating/power systems from oil and natural gas to alternative fuels, that wood is given equal consideration with coal in forested regions of the country. A canvass of wood conversion opportunities at all such facilities should be made to later be tested by the standard feasibility evaluation methods developed by the Forest Service and DOE. They should also issue procurement guidelines pointing out that, because of their value in meeting national energy goals, residue-based wood products be carefully considered as alternative materials for all construction and related applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not consider this to be a high priority area at this time due to the drastically reduced price of oil and other fuels. As a result, this recommendation is not actively being pursued at this time and it does not appear that it will be in the forseeable future. Since DOD and GSA have not acted on this recommendation, it should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should: (1) demonstrate Forest Service ability to conduct tree measurement sales and convert its western region to the tree measurement basis as rapidly as possible; and (2) preserve logging residues for potential future use by foregoing burning whenever possible under sound forest management practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Due to higher program priorities, USDA deferred action in this area and does not have any plans to address this recommendation in the forseeable future.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should: (1) increase promotion of new reconstituted wood product technologies developed with federal funds by allocating necessary resources to effectively disseminate information and provide technical assistance to forest products firms; and (2) adopt a more flexible policy which allows the use of long-term contracts to ensure that residues from national forests will be available on a continuous basis when needed to achieve increased residue use in a given area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service does not have funding to increase promotion of technologies. It wants private industry to do the promotion and demonstration. The Service is considering long-term contracts on a case-by-case basis, but it is constrained to a 10-year limit on contracts. It has had some bad experiences on long-term contracts and evaluates them individually.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should request legislation which would authorize the Department to grant private firms either title or an exclusive license in residue-handling equipment, and reconstituted wood product technologies developed wholly or partly with federal funds when needed to stimulate commercialization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy should present to Congress within 2 years a national wood residues plan, including proposed residue use goals and recommendations for legislation or other actions to overcome barriers to such goals. It should be supported by data on regional variations developed through the residue assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service will use the results of the four assessments in developing future actions on wood residues. However, because of the drastic reduction in energy prices over the past 4 years, this recommendation is no longer being actively pursued and will not be in the near future.

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