California Scheming: Rural county officials diving into the wood pellet business

Move over, Enviva. There’s a new pellet manufacturer in town.

Golden State Natural Resources, Inc. (GSNR) proposes to build the largest wood pellet manufacturing operation on the west coast, capable of producing a million tons of wood pellets a year. Most of the wood would be logged from California’s national forests. The pellets would be shipped thousands of miles away to be burned in power plants in Europe and Asia as “renewable energy.”

This five-alarm climate disaster is being advanced in the name of “forest resiliency” by a nonprofit entity formed by rural county supervisors and financed by a California state agency. In its own words, GSNR was created “for the express purpose of promoting public safety, forest resiliency, wildfire risk reduction, air quality improvement, organic waste reduction, rural economic development, and related public purposes.” In reality, this has translated into an ambitious and unprecedented business venture that is more about cashing in on the Golden State’s natural resources than protecting them.

According to a public notice last November, GSNR plans to build two wood pellet manufacturing facilities, one in the Central Sierra (Tuolumne County) and the other in Northern California (Lassen County). These pellets would then be hauled by train to either the Port of Stockton or Levin-Richmond terminals for export to international markets.

Read joint comments from PFPI and allies on the project here and here.

This project threatens Californians’ health, communities, and the climate. The experience of communities in the Southeastern United States shows that biomass pellet production can have a devastating impact on local health and wellbeing. In addition to the air pollution impacts at the two wood pellet manufacturing facilities, the deep-water ports in Stockton and Richmond are located in communities heavily burdened by air pollution, factors that would be exacerbated by increased transport, storage and shipping of the finished wood pellets. This runs counter to California’s commitment to environmental justice and raises questions about whose lungs are expendable to feed global energy markets. Moreover, the carbon emitted by logging, producing, hauling, and shipping wood pellets for overseas countries to burn for electricity would exacerbate the climate impacts Californians already face as the state struggles with fires and floods.

This project threatens California forests, too. GSNR initially suggested it would source its pellets from “dying trees” and brush-a problematic definition that sweeps into the chipper fragile and incredibly biodiverse post-burn forest ecosystems.  Board memoranda, however, reveal that the organization has broadened its primary pellet source to include logging in California’s eighteen national forests over the next twenty years. Hauling trees from logging sites to wood pellet facilities would significantly grow trucking operations, and from those facilities send 10,000 train cars of wood pellets across California from forests to coast every year.

Unsurprisingly, GSNR’s materials repeat tired and debunked myths that biomass combustion is “carbon neutral,”  and stale tales that logging-palatably renamed “forest management”-can prevent wildfires. Worse, GSNR is actively pursuing state and federal subsidies for its wood pellet facilities. In fact, millions of taxpayer dollars have already been sunk into this project, including for branding and glossy PR materials.

PFPI is partnering with Biofuelwatch, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups to oppose GSNR’s proposal. Read more from Biofuelwatch about GSNR, and its affiliation with rural government agencies in California, here. For more information, contact info@pfpi.net.

Partnership for Policy Integrity