Burning the forests that are supposed to be our best defense against climate change to protect us against climate change has to be one of the most ridiculous ideas I’ve ever heard. Yet over the last few years, Europe has wholeheartedly embraced this false solution to climate change, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in logging in the Southern US to fuel European demand. Along the way, the US South has become the largest wood pellet export region in the world.
Last year, in response to this growing threat, we launched the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel campaign and have seen the controversy surrounding biomass energy escalate. Corporations have ramped up the greenwashing, and communities have risen up to fight back. We started out with a bang: a front page story in the Wall Street Journal highlighting the destructive nature of this new industry. Our members responded by sending over 20,000 emails to Enviva, Drax, and Dominion in the first couple weeks of the campaign.
Since last summer, we have seen over 90 media stories written that highlight the biomass controversy. We also recruited over 60 scientists from around the country to weigh in on biomass policy as well as forest impacts with the UK government, European parliament and the U.S. EPA. Bringing the fight right to the corporations and policy makers who are deciding the fate of our forests from across the Atlantic, we went to Europe to represent Southern forests and communities. We met with agency representatives in the UK and Netherlands, high level EU commissioners in Brussels, and the largest utilities investing in this industry – Drax and GDF Suez.
Looking ahead to 2014, we are excited about what is to come and how we can continue to raise the profile of this issue and build the strength and leverage to change policies in Europe. We plan to influence EU level biomass policy as well as policies of the largest investors in biomass: the UK. We coordinated a compelling tour of effected US areas for Dr. Anna Stephenson who is developing the UK’s biomass carbon policy and will continue to exert pressure to make sure they get it right.
Thankfully we are not alone in this! In addition to the great work that our primary campaign partner, NRDC has been doing, much of our focus in 2014 is working with other allies to build the controversy and increase action to stop the unregulated expansion of this new industry.
In North Carolina, the Sierra Club has made wood pellet expansion and the associated deforestation one of their top conservation concerns in 2014. Regional groups have already toured an Enviva facility (the largest producer of wood pellets in the US), hosted presentations about the impact woody biomass is already having on the state and enlisted the aid of their members.
In the Deep South, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and others have been hard at work investigating the current and potential impact of this industry on the region. We are joining them in April to plan next steps together. Enviva has already established itself in Mississippi, and Drax is moving forward with their first US wood pellet facility in Louisiana, scheduled to open in early 2015. Al Jazeera America published an article on this under-reported story last month greatly increasing the visibility of this issue and our campaign.
We also released our first investigative video, Wetlands up in Smoke. It was picked up by a number of notable news and conservation sites, and people are really responding to the truth of what’s going on in the forests of our backyard. Keep a lookout for our second video, Injustice in Northampton, to come out in early March.
We are so grateful to have so many committed partners and the wellspring of support from our members. We’ve come a long way toward exposing the dirty reality of biomass energy, but we’ve still got a long way to go if we want to protect our forests in a meaningful way.