A bill incentivizing the construction of new biomass facilities has pitted environmental lawmakers against environmental groups.

“I am a diehard environmentalist and have one of the strongest environmental records in the Legislature,” said Asm. Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of Orinda (above). “Yet we have to be real about what is happening.”

Preventing wildfires requires thinning forests, which creates wood waste and leads to harmful emissions, either through burning or decomposition. According to Bauer-Kahan, a “positive alternative” to that is converting the organic waste to bioenergy, which the Air Resources Board and the Natural Resources Agency support. “It's hard for me to stand up and say I'm not going to support the position of the Sierra Club here,” she added.

The Sierra Club of California and the Natural Resources Defense Council initially opposed the bill because it would mandate 20% of certain energy and utility incentives grants go to bioenergy projects. With that pressure, the author replaced the mandate with a request to consider bioenergy in the grants, stoking anger from another liberal lawmaker.

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“To change it to a simple request, which will be ignored in my opinion, is not a good idea,” said Asm. Bill Quirk of Hayward. “We need to do more than this. We need a complete strategy on how we treat the huge amounts of biomass that are generated in farming and will be generated by our forests.”

Fresno Republican Jim Patterson was similarly disappointed with the weakened bill.

Several lawmakers related the issue to the public health impacts of ag burning on of local communities.