Fifth District Congressman Ralph Abraham

Louisiana’s natural resources have always been central to the state’s economy. On Oct. 6, I visited a facility in Morehouse Parish, which exemplifies how sustainable management of these resources, combined with hard work, smart investment and a little ingenuity, can help position Louisiana for future growth.

In 2013, Drax Biomass broke ground on its Morehouse Bioenergy plant near Bastrop to supply European utilities with an inexpensive and renewable alternative to traditional fuel sources. The plant converts wood fiber from the surrounding forests into pellets that can be safely and efficiently shipped around the world. Most of the wood used at Morehouse Bioenergy comes from common forest management practices like “thinning,” in which landowners remove small or damaged trees to improve forest health and productivity. The same lush forests that provide Louisianans with abundant natural resources are now providing new economic opportunities and making our resources in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District known to the rest of the world.

The Morehouse Bioenergy plant is creating jobs and economic growth across the parish. More than 60 people are employed at the 138-acre facility, and a Louisiana Economic Development study estimates that the plant supports an additional 150 jobs in related industries, such as logging and trucking. The plant is a win-win for our community and environment, creating well-paying, permanent jobs at home while supporting our forests and embracing another avenue that leads us toward American energy independence.

Louisiana’s forests have long served as an engine of economic growth. For over a century these forests have supported a vibrant wood-based economy, which includes sawmills, pulp and paper manufacturers, and other large employers. Unfortunately, our forest products industry has suffered in recent years due to foreign competition and changing market dynamics. This was demonstrated most recently by the closure of the International Paper mill in the heart of downtown Bastrop.

Not only do such closures impact our communities, they also impact our forests and landowners. Without healthy demand for wood, landowners face pressure to scale back investment in forest management, and may even be forced to convert their forests for other uses.

Thankfully, Louisiana’s forestry sector is responding to this challenge by attracting new investment, such as the wood pellet industry. Facilities like Morehouse Bioenergy make use of the region’s skilled workforce, our well-developed forestry supply chains, and modern infrastructure. It is essential that we welcome continued investment in these new industries, as the forest products sector is our second-largest employer with more than 25,000 people across the state.

In fact, the labor force is what struck me most about my visit to the plant. Many of the workers had been impacted by the loss of the International Paper mill, but this plant gave them new economic life and an opportunity to use the skills they’d acquired from other forestry jobs to seamlessly transition into a new and innovative industry. After speaking with the workers, it was clear to me they were proud to earn an honest living by contributing to an industry so vital to our great state. American ingenuity and the ability to adjust to a changing economic landscape have helped our nation thrive, and I have no doubt that the success they are finding in Morehouse Parish could be replicated elsewhere in Louisiana.

Morehouse Parish and the town of Bastrop have faced tough times in the past. However, with the continued growth of innovative industries such as wood pellets that make use of our abundant natural resources, we can look forward to a brighter future for Louisiana’s forests and our economy.

Dr. Ralph Abraham serves on the House Committee on Agriculture as well as the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where he sits on Subcommittee on Environment. Dr. Abraham’s district, Louisiana’s 5th, is one of the largest row crop districts in the nation.

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