ANNAPOLIS – More farming, not less, will be the key to improving the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality, according to a report released by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the state of Pennsylvania Wednesday.
The commission is urging member states to grow feedstocks, or raw material used to make biofuel, that it believes will produce 500 million gallons of biofuel a year by 2022, and create more than 18,500 jobs in the region. The commission’s Biofuel Advisory Panel believes biomass production, if managed correctly, could significantly reduce nutrient and sediment loads into the bay.
“What we’re talking about is stacking benefits,” said Tom Richard, director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and a member of the advisory panel. “It will be a more intensive and economically effective use of land with multiple benefits for society.”
The tri-state Chesapeake Bay Commission includes legislators, governors’ representatives and citizens from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Wednesday’s report was the last of three focusing on the bay region’s potential to be a major producer of biofuel.
The commission’s efforts are part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Renewable Fuel Standard, which will require the United States to produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel a year by 2022, up from 9 billion in 2008.
Biofuels are liquid fuels derived from plants. Although they are more expensive than fossil fuels, they are becoming lucrative because of their renewability.
Bill Matuszeski, the former director of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office, said much of the 36 billion gallons will come from next-generation biofuels.
“About 15 billion will be produced by corn, which will level off by 2015,” Matuszeski said. “The other 21 billion will come from perennial grasses, woody materials and fast-growing trees.”
If the commission’s estimate of 500 million gallons a year is achieved, the region would be producing 2.5 percent of the nation’s next-generation biofuels in 2022.
“These 500 million gallons will be supplemented by algae and mixed municipal waste from this region that would make a goal of 1 billion gallons a year,” Matuszeski said. “Ultimately 5 percent of the 21 billion would be achievable.”
The commission’s report says biomass production can provide vegetative land cover that can reduce erosion and the negative impact of manure and commercial fertilizer on the bay.
Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, believes the biofuel industry will have numerous positive impacts on the region.
“The potential to produce clean water is phenomenal,” Swanson said, “but it will require states to step up to the plate.”
The commission believes the next step for each state in the region is to create forestry guidelines that regulate the amount of biomass that can be removed from fields and forests without having an adverse effect on soil quality.
The emerging biofuel industry will also benefit the region’s economy.
John Urbanchuck, the report’s economic analyst, said more than 18,500 jobs will be created by the biofuel industry by 2022, 12,000 of which will be permanent.
“Considering the industrial makeup and economic composition of the states that make up the region, I suspect the jobs will be given to residents of the Chesapeake Bay region,” Urbanchuck said.
Andrew Smith, assistant director of government relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau, said the next step is to attract processors that will turn the feedstocks into fuel.
“We have to make sure the economy is working with the environment,” Smith said. “We will do this not because we can, but because we must in order to keep our agricultural industry growing and thriving.”