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GUEST COLUMN: Forestry, carbon sequestration can help clean up our environment

March 9, 2022
By Rob Hughes and Carly Ray Polk Jr.
The Lufkin Daily News

The Texas economy is the envy of the nation. The Lone Star State’s annual GDP accounts for 9% of all U.S. GDP, and we are the ninth largest economy in the world. We account for 20% of U.S. exports and are the top exporting state in the nation. What’s more is the Texas economy now exceeds pre-pandemic level employment, reaching a record high of nearly 13 million employed.

A large reason for Texas’ economic prowess is our oil and gas industry, which according to the Texas Oil and Gas Association accounts for 1.37 million jobs in the Lone Star State. And as we have seen over the past several years, the fossil fuel sector is seeking ways to reduce its CO2 emissions.

One of the ways to do that is by taking advantage of Texas’ vast lands and forests. Through the open marketplace, companies are already purchasing carbon credits from landowners to offset their CO2 emissions — this is known as the offset market.

In forestry, this market pays landowners to allow their forests to continue growing. This perpetuates the process known as carbon sequestration where forests capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store this carbon as live biomass, deadwood, litter, roots and soil. In certain settings, trees are harvested then turned into products that will hold that carbon for many decades while younger, more vigorous growing trees replace them.

The Lone Star State has the economic model and acreage to become the standard for the rest of the nation. Xufang Zhang, forest economist at Texas A&M Forest Service, recently indicated there are more than 62 million acres of forest and woodland statewide, which could provide the landowners voluntary opportunities to sell carbon offsets.

By expanding and encouraging the offset market, we can provide our landowners with another source of revenue while cleaning up our environment.

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, “Texas forests sequester one ton of carbon every 1.47 seconds. This amounts to 58,836 tons of carbon captured from the atmosphere every day, equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by 11,603 passenger vehicles for an entire year.”

Texans are doing this without government mandates and we must do more to build upon what Mother Nature is already doing on her own. With 62 million acres potentially available, there is no reason for Texas not to be a leader in this new market that will help to preserve our environment.

But as this market expands, it is important that protocols are established to ensure energy companies are making good faith efforts to reduce their emissions and landowners are protected. In his BCarbon blueprint, Jim Blackburn of Rice University lays out 10 core principles upon which this market should function, including that landowners not be required “to manage their land in any particular fashion.”

If the Lone Star State is to remain the jobs engine of America, it can and must lead on CCUS, while relying on the free market and property rights system that has catapulted our state to a global economic powerhouse.

Fortunately, Texas has the resources to do just that. Through the offset market and carbon sequestration, we can enhance the fossil fuel industry, create low-carbon and reliable energy sources, generate new revenue for our landowners and create jobs for a 21st century economy.

Rob Hughes is the executive director of the Texas Forestry Association and Carl Ray Polk Jr. is a sitting member of the Texas Soil and Water Conservation Board for the State of Texas. Both are advisory board members of the Carbon Neutral Coalition.