Westerman Testimony on Trillion Trees Act

February 26, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) gave the following testimony during a House Committee on Natural Resources legislative hearing on H.R. 5859, the Trillion Trees Act:

“Chairman Grijalva, Ranking Member Bishop, fellow colleagues, thank you for the opportunity today to testify on my bill, H.R. 5859, the Trillion Trees Act. This legislation represents a pragmatic first step in addressing global carbon emissions, emphasizing natural carbon sequestration through reforestation, forest management, and sustainable harvest and utilization.

“The climate is changing. Ice core samples from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and air samples from the Mauna Loa Observatory demonstrate a steady increase in CO2 parts per million from preindustrial times to today. Again, according to NOAA, 2019 was the second hottest year on record, just slightly below the record value set in 2016. 

“These numbers are stark, and Americans want Congress to act. According to the PEW Research Center, most Americans currently list ‘the environment’ as one of the top policy priorities. For Americans under 30, more than three-quarters of those surveyed think ‘the environment’ should be a focus.  The good news is we have already begun acting. Despite public misconception, the United States leads the world in reducing emissions. To quote the head of the International Energy Agency, Dr. Fatih Birol, ‘In the last 10 years, the emissions reduction in the United States has been the largest in the history of energy.’

“Additionally, because these reductions have come via innovation and market forces, rather than punitive taxation and regulation measures, energy costs have decreased. As my colleague from the Select Committee will likely point out, America has bested the reductions goals set by the Waxman-Markey proposal, simply by keeping the federal government from interfering.

“However, work remains. Americans demand pragmatic, long-term solutions to address our changing climate. That is why, along with House Minority Leader McCarthy, I introduced the Trillion Trees Act as part of a broader Republican initiative to offer practical answers to this complex, global problem. Please note, the Trillion Trees Act is just one part of this larger initiative. While the potential for storage offered by trees is significant, it is not the only answer. Rather, I view the Trillion Trees Act as a practical jumping-off point – something we all can agree that not only helps the climate, but can also help build relationships and trust needed to tackle even larger, more complex issues.

“The most advanced carbon capture device is in our backyards. In every tree, miraculous science is constantly taking place. Every second of every day, quadrillions of sub-cell organelles called chloroplasts are at work in a single tree doing what they do best: combining water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide to make carbon-rich plant food while releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere. That carbon stays in the tree even after it’s cut down and turned into buildings, furniture, and a whole host of other products. In fact, 40 to 50 percent of dry wood by weight is carbon. Trees are the natural, economical solution to reducing atmospheric carbon, and healthy forests offer a range of other benefits, from clean water to wildlife habitat.

“Why 1 trillion trees? One trillion is a big number from any perspective, but we are at a point where we need a bold goal to focus our efforts on being the best stewards of our environment. Recent scientific studies estimate that globally, there is room for nearly an extra 1 billion hectares of canopy cover, which could store at least 205 gigatons of carbon. Such storage would constitute nearly two-thirds of all manmade carbon emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The Trillion Trees Act acknowledges this bold goal and commits the United States to doing our part in reforestation and land management. Even if these estimates are off, the value from the stored carbon, combined with the additional benefits of an improved rural economy, wildlife habitat and more, is worth the expense.

“The Trillion Trees Act, however, is not only about planting more trees. It is bad policy to simply plant trees and walk away – just look at the situation across the West, especially in California. Due to wildfires and tree mortality stemming from decades of mismanagement, our western forests are now net emitters of carbon. The Washington Post reported that Montana forests alone are sending an extra 20 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Timber stands, if properly cared for, can produce far more new trees than we could ever plant, while maintaining resilience against pestilence and wildfire. Hence, the second section of the Trillion Trees Act is all about management of our forests. Keeping existing forestland in forests and managing these forests where practical to improve resiliency and growth offers the most economical opportunity to capture and store carbon.

“Finally, the Trillion Trees Act recognizes that the planet has limited growing space for forests. By contrast, there is no limit to how much carbon forests can pull from the atmosphere if we consider not just the trees that are growing, but also the wood products those trees can create. The United States Forest Service Forest Inventory Data demonstrates that forests, depending on location and primary species, reach their maximum carbon carrying capacity after about 80 years. Sustainable wood products manufacturing transfers carbon stored in the forest to the wood products, and their end uses, resulting in a sustainable increase in carbon stores year after year. In turn, harvested wood makes space for new trees, restarting the cycle of sequestration.

“The United Nations projects 2.3 billion new urban dwellers by 2050. By employing bio-based materials, technologies and construction assemblies with high carbon storage capacity and low embodied carbon emissions, we can create a durable, human-made global carbon pool while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions associated with building sector activities. Analysis suggests that construction of sustainable building for new urban dwellers could store up to 0.68 gigatons of carbon per year, in addition to the carbon stored through the sustainable cycle of replanting and harvesting needed to support such growth. The Trillion Trees Act’s final section attempts to harness this by providing a tax incentive to residential and commercial builders interested in building green. This incentive, combined with additional research dollars towards bio-based plastics and biochemicals, has a further effect of encouraging a sustainable market needed to finance the management of newly-planted trees.

“In closing, the Trillion Trees Act is about establishing a sustainable forest cycle that sequesters carbon for the future. Following reforestation and planting, there must be management, and following management, there must be sustainable utilization. Following sustainable utilization, there must be reforestation, and so on. There is no telling how much carbon this cycle can store, in addition to the myriad of additional benefits healthy forests provide.

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing me to highlight such a practical piece of legislation. This is by no means a silver bullet on climate, but, it’s a starting point. Every American can support planting a tree. If we can connect that action with sustainability and carbon storage, we are one step closer to solving a complex problem.  I look forward to answering any questions from you and other members of this committee, and urge swift adoption of this legislation.”

Click here to watch Westerman’s full statement.