Vermont’s plans for bioenergy threaten forests

For Immediate Release, December 6, 2011

Click here for the memo presented to the Bioenergy Working Group

Vermonters’ Forests, Health Would Be Hurt by Expansion of Large-scale Wood-burning “Biomass” Energy

State’s Climate Goals Would Also Be Undermined by New Biomass Plants

MONTPELIER, Vt.- The recommendations of a state-appointed panel on biomass energy were criticized today by environmental groups because the plan for increased biomass energy would threaten the state’s forests and the health of its citizens, as well as undermine the greenhouse gas reduction goals set by the state legislature.

The issues were presented at a public hearing of the Biomass Energy Development Working Group, created by the legislature to guide and promote biomass development in the state. Joining the statement were the Center for Biological Diversity, the Partnership for Policy Integrity and the Vermont Sierra Club. Increases in biomass demand, said the groups, will significantly increase logging.

“Current data indicate that Vermont’s available forestlands are already being logged at close to maximum potential,” said David Ellenbogen, chair of the Vermont Sierra Club. “Until the state has a solid understanding of how much wood is realistically available without diminishing the long-term health and diversity of our forests, and until there is a protective harvesting standard in place, there should be a moratorium on any new, large-scale facilities in the state.”

Bioenergy facilities proposed in the state would require close to 2 million tons of wood, said the groups, with the Beaver Wood Energy facility proposed for Fair Haven itself requiring more than 500,000 tons of wood a year.

Greenhouse gas emissions are also a serious, unaddressed concern in the Biomass Energy Working Group’s final report. The groups noted that the state of Massachusetts is putting in place regulations that will restrict biomass eligibility for renewable-energy credits, having recognized that burning trees for biomass fuel actually emits more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels.

“The report’s proposed expansion of biomass energy would undermine Vermont’s stated goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity. “How can Vermont reach its goal of reducing emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels in 2012, let alone its longer-term goals, when the planned new biomass facilities will increase carbon emissions?”

Increased biomass burning will affect air quality and the health of Vermont residents, since burning wood is a potent source of particulate matter, as well as other pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone. Vermont already has asthma rates above the national average, with Rutland and Burlington having some of the highest asthma rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The health impacts from utility-scale wood burning are so great that the American Lung Association recently adopted a position opposing the use of biomass for energy.

“Vermont needs to adopt the precautionary principle,” said Mollie Matteson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Vermont’s trees and forests are crucial to sequestering carbon, preventing soil erosion, keeping our air and water clean, sustaining all kinds of native wildlife, and keeping the state beautiful – which among other things protects our tourist economy. Our forests have far more value alive than cut down for dirty fuel.”


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) is a New England-based organization using science, policy analysis and strategic communications to promote sound renewable energy policy.

The mission of the Sierra Club is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet. Vermont Sierra Club has 3,000 members.

Partnership for Policy Integrity