Some of the largest forest industry lobby organizations, including the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the US Wood Pellet Industrial Association are organizing a coordinated effort to counter Dogwood Alliance and NRDC’s work to stop the large-scale burning of Southern forests for electricity. Last week, Rolling Stones’ keyboardist and Georgia pine plantation owner, Chuck Leavell, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, responding to the launch of the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel Campaign and the paper’s front-page story linking the South’s largest exporter of wood pellets to Europe to the clearcutting of wetland forests. Entitled “Why US Wood Can — And Should — Power Europe” Chuck’s opinion piece completely missed the beat. His arguments were reminiscent of an old, worn-out song people down South are tired of hearing, outdated and out-of-touch.
Numerous scientific studies, including one published last week from researchers at Dartmouth College, have documented that burning trees for electricity releases more carbon than burning coal. This is a big deal given the global consensus among scientists that we must reduce carbon emissions over the next several decades to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. While some forest landowners (like Chuck) might benefit financially in the short-term from the South’s exploding wood pellet export market, the longer-term economic losses on a global scale in the wake of catastrophic climate change will be staggering. And beyond the economic losses, catastrophic climate change threatens life on Earth as we know it.
Ignoring the science for the short-term economic gain of a few at the expense of so much is simply unconscionable, but that’s just what some in the industry intend to do. Chuck’s op-ed was just the beginning of a major counterattack on Dogwood Alliance and NRDC that’s being promoted by some state forestry association lobby groups in the South.
It’s important for policymakers to remember that the loud voice of some in the Southern forest industry does not necessarily represent the whole. Over the past decade, major wood and paper producers have made significant strides in improving practices to better protect water quality, wildlife habitat and carbon sinks. They are working hard to maintain a competitive edge in today’s market that increasingly demands the products they buy meet a high standard in the woods. We support the efforts of companies like Columbia Forest Products, Domtar, International Paper, Georgia-Pacific and others who are helping lead the Southern forest industry down the smart path of continuous improvement.
These traditional markets, which support hundreds of thousands of jobs, stand to suffer in the wake of a heavily subsidized wood to energy market. At the same time Chuck Leavell and forest industry lobby groups are touting the export market as the South’s economic savior, The National Wood Flooring Association, wrote a blog in response to the launch of our campaign stating “A report from the Hardwood Review Express indicates that there may be too little forestland to supply the rapidly expanding wood pellet industry currently growing in the southern U.S., especially as the construction industry recovers.”
It makes one wonder who these lobby groups attacking our campaign really represent. Do they primarily represent US companies that support US manufacturing jobs, or are they supporting European utility companies like Drax, Electrabel, RWE and others that intend to exploit our forests and out-compete American industry through the heavily subsidized logging and burning of America’s forests?
Over the coming year, we can expect a lot more “green smoke” and “money talk” promoting the export of Southern forests to Europe as good for the environment and economy. But, I suspect most folks who are really paying attention and doing their homework are not going to buy it. A much better economic path forward is to support traditional wood products companies working to improve forest management, help landowners generate revenue from protecting forest carbon on the landscape and scale-up solar and wind power, which can bring good paying, manufacturing jobs to rural communities. Our Forests Aren’t Fuel Campaign will continue to advocate for these solutions while bringing evidence, science and a diversity of voices to the forefront, documenting that logging our forests, exporting them overseas and burning them to generate energy is archaic.