When industry gets worried about clearcutting for biomass fuel, it’s time for EPA to listen

Those of us in the reality-based community who are opposed to burning trees in power plants are often accused of alarmism. The biomass industry wants you to think we’re a bunch of ill-informed NIMBY treehuggers trying to scare people so we can protect that awful special-interest group… trees? (and that’s a bad thing!)
Anyway, the biomass industry claims they only burn “waste” wood, and that they’d never cut a single tree for fuel – a claim the EPA seems to be buying.
Well, we’re not the only ones worried about impacts to forests. Existing industries that use wood, including some that burn biomass for energy themselves, are worried about competition for wood from the massive biomass plants being built around the country.
For instance, testimony offered by the Packaging Corporation of America to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin shows they’re worried about clearcutting by the proposed 50 MW We Energies/Domtar plant in Rothschild, WI.
The PCA testimony states,
To make a complete shift from a near non-existent to a smooth-running industry will likely take a minimum of 5-8 years, and perhaps longer, to reach stability. In the absence of such change, or during the transition, it would seem that the simplest and perhaps only alternative for WE is to procure pulpwood to be chipped as fuel. This obviously will raise the cost not only of pulpwood but also of biomass across the region. The scale of operations may also result in unforeseen forest management impacts, e.g., clearcutting of northern hardwood stands for whole tree chips.
When the wood-products industry starts talking about clearcutting for biomass fuel, it’s time for EPA to take notice.
Packaging Corporation of America aren’t the only ones worried about how competition for wood will play out. In New Hampshire, six smaller biomass burning companies intervened in the power purchase agreement for the massive 70 MW Laidlaw plant proposed in Berlin, NH, which will burn more than 750,000 tons of wood a year, the equivalent wood you’d get by clearcutting 7,700 acres of New Hampshire’s forests annually.
 The smaller power plants have intervened, as Biomass Magazine states, “alleging fierce competition for the biomass fuel”
Just over the border from the Berlin plant, Vermont has big plans for biomass and wood pellet plants of its own. But according to the EPA’s recent greenhouse gas assessment for the US, Vermont’s forests are being cut and dying faster than they can regrow, turning the state’s forests into a source, not a sink, of greenhouse gases.
Biomass power emits more CO2 than coal and liquidates standing forests, our best defense against climate change. Had enough? Tell the EPA not to burn America's forests for fuel. Comments are due Thursday May 5.

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