Big energy corporations are clearcutting forests throughout the Southeast United States, chopping the trees into pellets and shipping them to Europe to be burned for fuel.
Forests aren’t fuel. But biomass companies are cutting down whole trees to burn in European power plants. This scourge is huge, and it’s growing. From Louisiana to Virginia, there are 20 wood pellet facilities up and running, and 33 more being proposed.1 Wood pellet exports from the U.S. doubled last year, from 1.6 million tons in 2012 to 3.2 million tons in 2013 — and they’ve been projected to nearly double again by next year, to 5.7 million tons in 2015. 99% of U.S. exports came from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, and 98% went to Europe.2
This is all a terrible unintended consequence of a well-intentioned policy. A few years ago, European policymakers mandated that 20% of power come from renewable sources, and set up significant subsidies to help countries meet that target. The problem is, under this policy, wood counts as a renewable fuel source. The result? Insatiable European demand for wood pellets, and widespread destruction of Southern U.S. forests.
In fact, a recent study by the U.K. Department for Energy and Climate Change confirmed what a number of studies have shown: that burning whole trees for fuel is worse for the climate than burning coal.3 The Southern forests that are suffering from E.U. policy have more diverse tree species than anywhere in North America, and the world’s most biodiverse freshwater ecosystem. And, like forests everywhere, they serve as invaluable protection for drinking water for local communities.
Bad for the climate, bad for biodiversity, bad for communities: it’s past time to address this growing crisis. So today, as the wood products industry meets in Chesapeake, Virginia, the Dogwood Alliance and its allies across the country are holding a National Day of Action to pressure European policymakers to stop incentivizing burning forests for fuel.
1. “Forests for Fuel”, Dogwood Alliance
2. “The Truth About the Biomass Industry: How Wood Pellet Exports Pollute Our Climate and Damage Our Forests”, Natural Resources Defense Council
3. “New Study Confirms That Some Biomass is Dirtier Than Coal”, Natural Resources Defense Council