Dogwood Alliance Statement on the Clean Power Plan
Yesterday, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency released the historic Clean Power Plan which finally acknowledged that, in President Obama’s words, ‘No challenge poses a greater threat to our future or future generations than a changing climate.’ The Administration affirmed what science has been telling us for over a decade, that climate change is real and bold action must be taken to address this escalating challenge. We applaud President Obama for taking this vital first step.
Our organization works to protect the forests and communities of the Southern US. Over the last five years we have seen a growing rush to burn forests for electricity and call it good for the climate. Unfortunately, Europe thus far has wholeheartedly embraced this false solution to climate change and has been dramatically increasing the destruction of our forests in the form of wood pellets to burn for electricity. Thankfully, the Clean Power Plan does not fully embrace burning wood for electricity at the same level that Europe has.
Though we had hoped the EPA would categorically exclude biomass from the Clean Power Plan, they chose not to do so. Instead, they acknowledged that not all forms of forest-based biomass are carbon neutral and with the guidance of their scientific advisory board will be evaluating what feedstocks qualify. If we have learned anything from the European debacle on biomass, we know that burning wood for utility-scale electricity production requires whole trees and high carbon feedstocks to operate, which has been a disaster for our forests.
As the EPA states in their guidance as it relates to biomass, claims of emission reductions ‘must be quantifiable, verifiable, non-duplicative, permanent and enforceable’ with respect to each power plant. The strict guidelines that the EPA has implied for qualifying biomass are a signifier that there are serious concerns about the affects that burning wood has on our climate and environment. In fact, the latest science is showing many forms of biomass are worse for our climate than burning coal. Therefore, unlike wind and solar, which get a full green light, the EPA has urged caution in including biomass in the mix.
Again, this is a step in the right direction, but as with all rule-making there are still many questions to be answered and many loopholes that can be exploited. In a sense the EPA has left it to the states to determine sustainability, what defines forest-derived waste, and potentially the carbon accounting. As we all know, conservationists and the general public have a much different definition of sustainability than the industry. States need to avoid biomass and focus their energy on true renewable solutions like wind, solar, conservation and efficiency.
Biomass advocates will be fighting tooth and nail to burn, burn, burn. They will attempt to exploit the definitions of forest-derived wastes in a way that makes it possible to continue burning everything as usual. We can not, nor should we expect the EPA to be in the business of measuring sustainable forestry or the definition of wastes. Instead, we should categorically exclude most feedstocks besides the small scale use of manufacturing waste and urban trimmings.
Powerful lobbyists and big-monied special interests from the industry will fight to include biomass, and the EPA should have strictly limited it. Now that the Clean Power Plan is a reality it is important that we dig into the details and make sure that most, if not all biomass is eliminated. Otherwise, we will see the fight move to Congress, where friends of the industry will try to falsely legislate the carbon neutrality of biomass.
Forests represent our best defense against climate change. Now is not the time to increase logging, it is the time to put greater investment into protecting forests so that they can do the job they do best.