2010 Feb. 19: OR: Sierra Club Oregon Chapter Many Rivers Group: Remove Biomass from Energy Bill Funding: Forest Biomass: What you really need to know

2010 Feb. 19: OR: Sierra Club Oregon Chapter: Forest Biomass: What you really need to know

We are the Earth’s keepers. It is our responsibility to be its protectors. If we aren’t, who will be?

Background Information

Although biomass can be an important source of renewable energy, the harvest of woody biomass by logging can have detrimental effects on forest ecosystems including loss of biodiversity, destruction of wildlife habitat, and increased soil erosion. When considering the endorsement of biomass energy projects, it is critical that the Club evaluates the entire lifecycle of the project, including land use change, ecosystem disturbance, and energy consumption related to biomass production, harvest, and transportation. Proposed forest biomass facilities need to develop plans that define the locations and management activities that will be used to provide a sufficient supply of biomass without harming the health of forest ecosystems. In the1996 General Election, the Sierra Club adopted the "No Commercial Logging on Public Lands" policy. The salvage of downed wood from public lands may be an acceptable source of biomass in some situations.

Existing Policy

As an example of a certain amount of confusion, the most recent edition of Sierra Magazine applauds universities that burn chips and pellets without any indication where these wood products come from. The newest threat on the horizon is the proposal to convert biomass from forests into wood pellets that can then be burned not only in power plants but also in private homes for heat. The Club’s guidance document does not address this issue at all, yet the industry has announced plans to construct such plants in many locations around the country.

Existing Situation

Biomass is nature’s organic materials that decay back into the land improves soil structure and increases the soil’s water-holding capacity. “Thinning" projects by the Forest Service are basically logging operations done under the guise of fire hazard reductions. While destroying wildlife habitat, the current round of national forest logging funded by the stimulus program at least still leaves the forest wood biomass on the forest floor to build future floor cover Biomass should be viewed as combustible power source only if our goal is completely destruction of areas where biomass is being extracted. Thus, the rush to make America independent of foreign oil by building a host of wood-burning power plants and wood pellet mills threatens the nation’s National Forests and other publicly owned forests, as well as the vast areas of privately owned forests across the country.

Public Health Considerations

Burning wood in home stoves and fireplaces (most with no emission controls what-so-ever) has been shown to contribute significantly to ground-level air pollution including fine particulates in addition to producing carbon dioxide. Emerging Global Threat At least one plant, now under construction in Camden, Arkansas, is designed to export wood pellets in large quantities to foreign countries. In general, the fastest growing source of renewable energy in the world is the wood pellet, a globally traded commodity. China recently (along ith Thailand and the Philippines) ended the commercial logging of its forests. Biomass is a new growing threat to the Rainforests. As a global marketplace emerges with a growing appetite for pellets, the Southeastern U.S. is becoming a major exporter, with pellet factories sprouting in Florida, Alabama and Arkansas. Europe’s eagerness for more pellets has strong potential to turn the U.S. into a major biomassenergy exporter. The industry goal is for our National Forests to be a significant source. If the wood will actually be burned outside the U.S. the effect on our forests and on global climate will be the same (or worse) as if the power were generated here.

Legislative Agenda

New legislation is bolstering new surging "back door" timbering. National Forests wood scraps to energy got a major boost with a new provision added to the House version of the Federal Energy bill. There are requirements as part of all National Forest Plans for the Forest service to identify MIS (management indicator species). Laws meant to protect MIS species and migratory song birds are being ignored in support of timbering. Recent news reports indicate attempts by members of Congress and the Senate to abet these efforts by including language in the energy legislation currently being considered that would provide a range of economic incentives to private companies to build and operate biomass plants that would be fueled at least in part by wood taken from forests. In addition, language in the Energy bill reportedly includes a provision to make biomass easily available from National Forests. Since the biomass industry has been successfully lobbying Congress to support inclusion of biomass power as "renewable" energy in the current bill, many grassroots forest activists inside the Club and in other organizations are increasingly concerned that the push to pass the legislation implies consent by the environmental community to have our nation’s forests logged to generate power, under the guise ofbeing an acceptable alternative to burning fossil fuels.There is little information from our national staff on this issue.

Cost and Public Perceptions

Most Americans don’t realize that our national forests are being logged at our expense. The U.S. Forest Service spends more to build logging roads and make sale preparations than it receives in payment for the lumber. The biomass industry will deprive our forests of biomass that is essential for continued, long-term ecological functioning of forest ecosystems. This is not waste wood! In summary, forest biomass used as fuel, ,and particularly the international wood pellet trade, is a threat to our forest ecosystems. Sierra Club must take the lead in fighting this new and disturbing trend. We must lead the other major environmental organizations in working to remove biomass support from the energy bill. But we need clear direction from the Council and the Board of Directors that this is a major concern that must be addressed immediately by the Congress as it continues drafting the bill following the summer recess.

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