On Biomass Energy, Green Activists Miss The Forest For The Trees

Drew Johnson Contributor
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Environmental leaders have stood alongside the Obama Administration on virtually every issue since day one. Yet on biomass energy, the two groups couldn’t be further apart.

In a recent letter to his British counterpart, Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack wrote glowingly of biomass – wood, grasses and other organic matter that can be used for fuel. Biomass, Vilsack notes, “increases our forested area, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and improves U.S. forest management practices.”

At the same time Obama Administration officials have been singing its praises, green groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have been irresponsibly vilifying biomass as environmentally disastrous.

The reason for this tension? The NRDC and other environmental activists put politics over science. Their misinformation campaigns aren’t just dishonest; they goes against the interests of our climate, our forests and our economy.

The biomass under the heaviest attack is wood pellets. Made from wood that has been dried out, ground down, and formed into small cylindrical pieces, these pellets can be fed into a power plant’s furnaces to generate electricity.

Critics claim the wood pellet industry is destroying America’s forests. The Dogwood Alliance, a major anti-pellet extremist group, has promotional material showing large swaths of forest supposedly wiped out because of wood pellets.

This is completely bogus argument. Wood pellets are largely derived from thinnings, tops, limbs and unusable pieces of a tree that cannot be sold as timber and would have otherwise been discarded.

Furthermore, the growing market for biomass energy has strengthened the incentive for small landowners to tend to the long-term health of their forests. Without that strong market for wood products – driven, in part, by pellets – owners would be far more likely to sell their land to commercial or industrial developers.

As Secretary Vilsack stated in his letter, these “new economic opportunities for low-value wood…has increased demand for this material and improved the likelihood that forested lands remain intact.” Domestic forest inventories have been steadily increasing, as a result. Between 2000 and 2014 alone, domestic forest stocks rose by over 1 billion tons.

Another environmentalist fib about wood pellets us that they generate more CO2 emissions than coal. In truth, wood pellets actually deliver significant carbon savings. When wood pellets are used for energy, the released carbon is almost completely reabsorbed by trees.

These environmental benefits are why many European countries rely in part on American pellets to meet their emissions-reduction goals. Between 2013 and 2015, annual U.S. wood pellet exports nearly doubled to 5.7 million tons, thanks mostly to growing demand in Europe.

The transition from traditional energy sources to wood pellet energy is already paying off for the environment. In 2014, the United Kingdom was responsible for nearly three-quarters of all U.S. wood pellet exports. Due in part to these imports, U.K. emissions dropped by 8 percent that year.

The green movement’s all-out assault on wood pellets isn’t the first time environmental advocates have used distortions and falsehoods to defame the forest industry. Back in the 1990s, activists launched almost identical attacks against wood chip mills, predicting mass deforestation as a result. Those predictions, of course, turned out to be hogwash.

Fast forward to today, Canada-based Resolute Forest Products is fighting back by suing Greenpeace and its affiliates under the federal RICO Act for fraudulently driving donations with a deceptive smear campaign.

Wood pellets are precisely the kind of renewable energy source that environmentalists should be championing. Instead, they’ve tried to shut down the green energy with an embarrassing fact-free crusade.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration has shown a willingness to ignore its environmental allies’ lies and manufactures hysteria and instead embraced biomass as a valuable tool for safeguarding our planet and strengthening our economy.