Why Are US Southern Forests Being Used To Fuel European Power Plants?

On April 11, Global Justice Ecology Project co-sponsored the Stand For Forests rally against the International Biomass Conference in Charlotte, NC.  The rally was organized by our allies at the Dogwood Alliance, garnering media coverage from outlets like the Charlotte Observer, as seen here:

What was the Rally For Forests All About?

From Dogwood Alliance:

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Charlotte, NC – In the last five years, the South has seen explosive growth in wood pellet manufacturing—pellets which are being shipped across the Atlantic for use as a replacement fuel in Europe’s coal fired power plants. But while these exports are generating significant profits for European corporations, questions are being asked about both the environmental and economic consequences of this rapid expansion.

This week, the International Biomass Conference & Expo will draw 1,500 attendees from across industry and government to Charlotte. The subject of wood pellet manufacturing and forest-to-biomass energy is likely to be a hot topic.

Exploiting Southern Forests

The movement of opposition against the biomass industry is rapidly growing. Outside the conference a group of activists including Asheville-based forest protection group Dogwood Alliance and impacted community members, public health groups, faith leaders, environmental justice organizations, and local environmental non-profits gathered to present a different message. According to Danna Smith, Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance, the industry’s green claims do not hold up to scrutiny:

“By their own admission, large wood pellet companies like Enviva aren’t just using waste wood to make their pellets. They are sourcing whole trees from endangered Southern forests – forests that are home to countless wildlife species found nowhere else on Earth, and Cypress trees that are hundreds of years old.”Stand Tall with Forests Convention Center 450

Questionable “Green” Claims

In addition to biodiversity concerns, activists are also highlighting the climate impact of burning wood for energy. While the industry itself has touted its product as “carbon neutral”, research has shown burning wood to release more carbon than coal—leading many to worry that this industry will disappear as the world’s leaders start taking climate change more seriously. In fact, a group of investors with over $53 billion in assets under management recently requested that the SEC examine claims of climate benefits in the biomass energy sector, and enforce rules requiring companies to disclose material information, including climate-change related risks, to investors.

Undermining Real Jobs

Social justice activists are also concerned about the wood pellet industry’s impact on communities in the South.  Recently, a community in Fairfield County, SC was able to stop a new wood pellet mill from being built. Morgan Rowden, a community member from nearby Laurens County, South Carolina that is also facing the potential of a new wood pellet mills said:

“Rural communities—often communities of color—across The South are facing increased traffic, noise, wood dust and other hazards from the explosive growth of this industry. The sad part is it’s not even creating jobs. Because these companies are heavily subsidized by Europe, it’s pushing up wood prices and threatening the paper and wood-product industries that have been a part of our communities for generations.”

A Subsidy-Dependent Industry

This Monday, activists held a rally and festival in Romare-Bearden Park that provided a counterpoint to the industry voices at the convention center. According to Danna Smith, the message is simple:

“This industry is bad for our forests. It’s bad for our climate. It’s bad for our communities. And it’s bad for our economy too. With subsidies likely to be phased out in 2023, there’s not even any guarantee that it will be around for much longer. We’re calling on Southerners to send a clear message: Tell Europe to Stop Burning Our Forests.”

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