For Immediate Release, June 23, 2015
White House Urged to Remove Wood-burning Power Plants From
Plan for Reducing Greenhouse Pollution
WASHINGTON— Fourteen conservation groups today urged the White House to eliminate biomass energy — the large-scale burning of wood to create electricity — as a means of compliance under the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” which will regulate carbon pollution from power plants.
In today’s letter to the Office of Management and Budget, which is currently reviewing the plan, the conservation groups pointed out that the EPA has not identified any scientifically rational basis for treating biomass energy as a means of emissions reduction under the Clean Air Act.
Under the Clean Power Plan, states have the option of using “renewable” energy like wind and solar to reduce emissions of pollutants like carbon dioxide that disrupt the climate. But burning wood for energy is highly polluting. “Power plants burning wood and other forms of biomass emit about 3,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour — an emissions rate that is approximately fifty percent higher than that of a coal-fired power plant,” the letter notes.
“Burning trees for electricity hurts our climate by producing dangerous amounts of carbon pollution,” said Kevin Bundy, climate legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Obama administration’s power plant policies must be based on science, and the science clearly shows that burning trees for power will likely make the climate crisis worse.”
Today’s letter also points out that the EPA cannot simply leave it to the states to make hard decisions about how to calculate the climate-change effects of biomass energy, because this could result in inconsistent carbon accounting methods for similar facilities. Finally, although the EPA has proposed allowing “sustainably harvested” forest wood to be used as fuel under the Clean Power Plan, the groups note that forest sustainability standards do not address carbon balance.
The letter comes as a rider to an appropriations bill moving through the House and Senate would force the EPA to treat biomass as having zero CO2 emissions as long as forest carbon stocks are stable or increasing. The provision, described as a “poison pill” by Sen. Tom Udall, ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, directly contradicts current science, including a report by the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board panel on biomass energy.
“Forests are our most important carbon sink, with new growth taking up over 13 percent of U.S. emissions per year,” said Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity. “There’s really no better way to sabotage the Clean Power Plan than by burning up the forest carbon sink in power plants and then forcing EPA to treat the electricity generated as if it has zero emissions.”
“The wood pellet industry is already clearcutting bottomland hardwood forests in the Southeast to fuel European power plants,” said Danna Smith, executive director of Dogwood Alliance. “If U.S. utilities are allowed to burn wood under the Clean Power Plan, it will accelerate carbon emissions and decimate our last remaining native forests, all in the name of ‘clean energy.’ ”
“The American people would be incredulous if Congress passed a law declaring lead in children’s toys nontoxic, or saying tobacco is good for you, in order to support some politically influential industry,” said Bundy. “This appropriations bill is no different. The climate obeys the laws of physics, not the whims of Congress.”
The groups signing onto the letter are the Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Air Task Force, Dogwood Alliance, Earthjustice, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, Partnership for Policy Integrity, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center and 350.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.