- by Josh Schlossberg, Energy Justice Network
[graphic: Steve Adams Illustration]
The grassroots biomass resistance has come a long way over the years and it’s growing stronger every day. A mere five years ago few people even questioned the logic of classifying polluting biomass energy alongside smokestack-free energy sources like solar and wind. Most environmental groups hailed bioenergy as a climate savior and the only mentions of biomass in the media were how many jobs developers were promising.
Then a very good thing—concern with climate change—opened the floodgates to something very bad—billions of dollars of government subsidies for biomass. Like a pack of hungry rats, the biomass industry gorged itself on the taxpayer-funded government cheese. A rash of biomass incinerator proposals erupted across the nation like an outbreak of acne. Quiet communities found themselves facing polluting monstrosities being erected a stone’s throw away from their homes or their children’s schools.
Enter the grassroots anti-biomass movement…
Communities across the Northwest, the Rockies, the Upper Midwest, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic region, and the Southeast began banding together to confront the bio-monster. Drawing on statements by public health organizations such as the American Lung Association and medical professionals like Dr. Bill Sammons of Massachusetts, Dr. Norma Kreilein of Indiana, Dr. Bill Blackley of North Carolina, and Dr. Ron Saff of Florida, citizens sounded the alarm on health threats from an energy source that typically spews out more asthma-causing particulate matter and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds per unit of energy than a coal burning plant. Biomass busters across the nation collected one scientific study after another debunking the biomass industry’s “carbon neutral” myth and shoved them under the noses of politicians and the media.
Thanks, in no small part, to the grassroots anti-biomass movement, the bio-mess is now impossible for the general public to ignore. And we’re helping to slow down the bio-massacre, too. Over the last few years, dozens of biomass facilities have been proposed only to be withdrawn, the developers run out of town by unfavorable economics, nervous investors, clear-sighted politicians, and locals unwilling to bear the burden of another dirty power plant.
The ghosts of defeated biomass proposals harmlessly roam the streets of towns such as Shelton, Washington; Traverse City, Michigan; Milltown and Scottsburg, Indiana; Greenfield, Massachusetts; Valdosta, Georgia; and Port St. Joe, Florida, and many more (with more to come).
The handful of incinerators that bought their way into existence faced a tough fight every step of the way, and are now being watched like hawks by irate community members in towns like Gainesville, Florida; Rothschild, Wisconsin; and Eugene, Oregon. Every tax hike, safety oversight, and air permit violation is broadcast across the national network to prevent other toxic biomass power plants from taking root.
And sometimes the victories are bittersweet. Kings Beach, California and Pownal, Vermont both managed to keep biomass profiteers from breaking ground in their towns. But like hockey-masked Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, the developers didn’t die, only set up shop in poorer, less-organized towns a bit further down the road in Placer County, California and Fair Haven, Vermont. Only strong statewide networks can keep the bio-monster at bay.
But even statewide efforts aren’t enough, as developers have just learned to avoid the more troublesome states and set their sights on the ones without active resistance. Which is where the national Anti-Biomass Incineration campaign comes in.
If local fights are the “heart” of the anti-biomass movement, the national campaign is the system of arteries and veins that keep the blood flowing. To date, over 50 organizations across 35 US states have united in solidarity on a clear and compelling message opposing “all industrial, commercial and institutional burning of biomass and biofuels for energy.” If your organization hasn’t already signed the platform, what are you waiting for? Join the national movement by emailing Traci [at] energyjustice [dot] net.
Of course, the biomass battle isn’t only being waged in the United States. US and UK-based Biofuelwatch has demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that the anti-biomass movement must go international, pointing towards Europe’s increasing demand for biomass from the US and the global south. On April 15, 2013, Australian-based Biomassacre.com hosted the first International Day of Action Against Bioenergy, where hundreds of people around the world in Australia, UK, US, Germany and Italy held up signs to show anti-biomass solidarity on an online visual petition.
It’s become crystal clear that if we want to clean up the biomess once and for all, the anti-biomass movement needs to move beyond borders and take the resistance beyond NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) to NOPE (Not On Planet Earth)!
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Report: “Unintended Consequences” from Biomass Boom
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
Add another one to the stack of studies shattering the biomass industry’s illusion of carbon neutrality. One would assume that the scientific community’s repeated debunking of the alleged climate benefits of biomass would already have knocked the polluting energy source off its “green” pedestal. However, in a world where 97% of climate scientists attribute global warming to human activity and only 57% of Americans believe them, it’s clear that science alone can’t change people’s minds.
Despite science’s limited influence on public opinion, The Carbon Footprint of Electricity from Biomass: A Review of the Current State of Science and Policy, by Synapse Energy Economics out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be a valuable tool in the hands of biomass truth-tellers looking to strip the greenwash off bioenergy. In February 2013, study co-author Sarah Jackson presented on the findings of her and her colleagues, Jeremy Fisher and Bruce Biewald, at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon for the benefit of environmental and public health advocates.
Fisher, Jackson, and Biewald predict that an energy policy that pushes for biomass without honest carbon accounting “may result in large-scale perverse incentives and unintended consequences.” They urge the precautionary principle in regards to the expansion of industrial scale bio-power in the US and recommend a “clear and rigorous” carbon accounting to be undertaken on a yearly basis in a way that is “transparent, generalizable, and internally consistent.”
The paper delves into the “precept and assumption” of carbon neutral biomass by picking apart relevant aspects including land use, transportation and processing, and stack emissions. The report lays out the basics of the carbon cycle in relation to biomass energy, assesses varying perspectives of carbon accounting in the science, advocacy, and policy fields, weighs “the implications of those assumptions and postulate[s] which types of assumptions might lead to unintended consequence if implemented in full.”
An assumption of carbon neutrality “sets the stage for a massively perverse incentive” for biomass energy that could cause “large market distortions for both local and international feedstocks.” Further, an uptick in logging to feed a rash of new incinerators across the nation could “result in large-scale shifts of carbon from sequestered biomass stocks to the atmosphere.”
The study maintains that the current life cycle analysis of biomass “has been applied inconsistently” and often can “give undue favor to bioenergy.” The study authors “estimate that stack emissions from existing facilities are around 1.67 tCO2/MWh, or anywhere from 50-85% higher than emissions from existing coal plants.”
They caution against co-firing with coal, warning that coal facilities that might otherwise be shut down will be kept running to burn varying percentages of biomass, which could be “considered largely counterproductive” for limiting greenhouse gases. While focusing mainly on carbon emissions, The Carbon Footprint of Electricity from Biomass notes that “burning biomass generates a considerable amount of air pollution” including asthma- causing particulate matter and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds and can emit “hazardous air pollutants like hydrochloric acid (HCl), formaldehyde, dioxins/furans, mercury, and arsenic.”
Biomass power incinerators are “generally not as well-controlled as pollution from fossil-burning plants” the authors explain, and “can emit up to two-and-a-half times as much pollution as fossil fueled plants without any kind of regulatory review or permitting restrictions.” Instead of being a clean energy source, “wood naturally contains toxic constituents.”
Industrial heating is currently the largest consumer of biomass energy, accounting for 52% of total bioenergy use in 2011. Transportation burns up 26% of biomass, mainly from blending ethanol into conventional gasoline. Nationally, biomass power incineration makes up 10% of total biomass burning, amounting to 1.1% of total electricity generation in the US.
The paper cites the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s calculations of 2,600 megawatts of biomass electricity currently in the US, with the US Department of Energy forecasting another 1,040 megawatts over the coming years from proposed incinerators and facilities now under construction.
The Department of Energy also predicts that the consumption of forest biomass could double by 2030, primarily due to a “tripling” of wood use from biomass power incinerators and co-firing with coal. The US Energy Informational Administration estimates a “100-fold increase” in biomass co-firing with coal by 2021.
The “diversion” of croplands, forest products and natural forests to burn for bioenergy could spike the price of food and forest products, say the authors, while pointing out that “economics suggest that the day is not far afield when generators will start diverting paper and pulp production, or start replacing forests or agricultural lands with short-rotation woody biomass crops.”
A Wise et al. study from 2009 forecasts that energy policy which ignores carbon dioxide emissions from biomass could result in a future in “which unmanaged (i.e. natural) forests disappear completely by 2070.”
While it may seem obvious to anyone with a command of eighth grade earth science, one point routinely ignored by biomass boosters the world over is the fact that “any additional harvest attributable to bioenergy production necessarily results in less carbon sequestered in the ecosystem and more carbon in the atmosphere.” The paper also reminds us that shorter logging rotations for bioenergy means that forests “subsequently store less carbon.”
Flying a bit more under the radar is the concept of “leakage,” where competition for a limited wood source “drives up the marginal price” of pulp wood, forcing the paper and particle board industries to “increase their harvests to meet the new demand,” often by logging outside of the region. This on-the-ground reality ends up “undermining the CO2 benefit of the bioenergy.”
A Sedjo and Sohngen study from 2009 in reference to cellulosic ethanol policy concluded that biomass demand could spike wood prices by 20%, “diverting conventional wood products and driving wood production overseas.” Using forest “residues”—the tree tops and limbs that a forest requires to enrich soils and provide wildlife habitat—is iffy in the authors’ estimation as well, stating that “the economics of transporting this lower energy-density wood from logging sites to processing plants or generators may not be favorable without incentive.”
While pleased with the debunking of carbon neutral biomass, some biomass opponents are concerned that carbon accounting is simply another way to grease the skids for more incineration. Rachel Smolker, co-director of the US and UK-based Biofuelwatch, warns that the biomass industry is “already working on ‘standards’ that would enable them to do sham accounting and create an appearance of having resolved the problems.”
The biomass industry is “very skilled at working the numbers to their advantage, whereas anyone with basic understanding of ecology knows that carbon flux in and out of forests is extremely complex and not easy to control or measure accurately,” said Smolker. “There are so many obvious reasons to oppose tree burning for electricity—we do not want to get lost in the weeds counting carbon molecules.”
While applying a precautionary principle to industrial scale biomass energy “does potentially slow the development of bioenergy,” The Carbon Footprint of Electricity from Biomass: A Review of the Current State of Science and Policy maintains that “such precaution may be warranted.” The national Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign, made up of over 50 organizations across 32 states, embraces the precautionary principle by opposing “all industrial, commercial and institutional burning of biomass and biofuels for energy.”Tags: climate
Campaigners Challenge Environment Agency
Trafford, UK-based Breathe Clean Air Group has challenged the Environment Agency over a serious irregularity in issuing the controversial Barton Renewable Energy Plant in Greater Manchester, with an Environmental Permit.
Group Chairman Pete Kilvert has written to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles claiming that the Environment Agency has clearly flouted the law and this should be taken up with higher authorities. The Barton Renewable Energy Plant is still awaiting planning permission, but two weeks before a Public Inquiry last November, the Environment Agency issued an Environmental Permit.
“Not only did the timing of the permit go against us” said Mr. Kilvert, “but certain facts about the danger of the incinerator were not revealed. One crucial fact that was not revealed was that the Environment Agency failed to notice, when looking at Peel Energy’s plans, that the nearest people to be affected by emissions from the plant lived on Wilfred Street, not Tindall Street, Peel Green.”
The Breathe Clean Air Group says that Wilfred Street will receive 2 per cent extra nitrogen dioxide from the plant, and they are already well over the limit for this toxic and irritant gas, because of their proximity to the M60 motorway. Mr. Kilvert has urged Mr Pickles, who will make the final decision about the Davyhulme biomass incinerator by mid May, that he should not allow it to be built. The campaign group has also planned to visit Parliament next month to stress to MPs, the dangers of burning biomass.
“We are not opposed to alternative energy” added Mr Kilvert, “but biomass should not be used as it adds to Global Warming and has serious health impacts.”Tags: air pollution
Biomass Energy: Dirty and Unsustainable
- by Ron Zeller
President Obama's continuing "all-out, all-in, all-of-the-above energy strategy" still supports biomass energy development despite its increasingly obvious problems, numerous abandoned facilities, and public rejection. An asserted need to reduce America's reliance on imported oil is frequently cited in arguments made for funding projects which are otherwise environmentally and economically dubious.
The US Department of Energy uses the term “renewable” when introducing visitors at its website to the topic of biomass energy. Perhaps it can be argued that biomass energy is renewable, but is it accurate to describe the repeated removal of biomass from agricultural or forested lands as sustainable? A quick review of some basics on the role of organic matter in soils belies the claim.
To support healthy plant life, soil must contain organic matter—plants don’t thrive on minerals and photosynthesis alone. As organic matter breaks down in soil, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur are released. Organic matter is the main source of energy (food) for microorganisms. A higher level of microbial activity at a plant’s root zone increases the rate of nutrient transfer to the plant. As the organic matter decreases in soil so does this biochemical activity. Without organic matter, soil biochemical activity would nearly stop.
In addition to being a storehouse of nutrients, decaying plant matter keeps soil loose, helping soil remain both porous and permeable as well as gaining better water-holding capacity. This is not only beneficial to plant growth but is essential for soil stability. Soil becomes more susceptible to erosion of all types as organic matter content is reduced.
The value of returning organic matter to the soil has been well-known to farmers since the earliest days of agriculture. Crop residues and animal waste are tilled back into the soil to promote fertility.
Denny Haldeman, steering committee member of the national Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign, asserts that there is no documentation of the sustainability of repeated biomass removals on most soil types. Most documentation points to nutrient losses, soil depletion and decreased productivity in just one or two generations.
A cursory search of the Department of Energy website does not reveal that they have given the issue of soil fertility any consideration at all. However the biomass industry is supported by both Federal and State governments through five main advantages: tax credits, subsidies, research, Renewable Portfolio Standards, and preferential pricing afforded to technologies that are labeled “renewable” energy. Without government support, biomass power plants wouldn’t be viable outside of a very limited number of co-generation facilities operating within lumber mills. But under the Sisyphean imperative of “energy independence” and with generous access to public assistance, the extraction of biomass from our farmlands and public forests is set to have a big impact on land use (or abuse).
The creation of an artificial market for agricultural “wastes” harms entire local agricultural economies. In Minnesota, organic farmers are concerned that a proposed turkey waste incinerator will drive up the price of poultry manure by burning nearly half of the state’s supply. The establishment of biomass power generation will likely make it more difficult for family farms to compete with confined animal feeding operations and will contribute generally to the demise of traditional (sustainable) agricultural practices.
Similar economic damage will occur in the forest products industries. Dedicating acreage to servicing biomass wood burners denies its use for lumber or paper. Ultimately, the consumer will shoulder the loss in the form of higher prices for forest products.
As available sources of forest biomass near the new power plants diminish, clear-cutting and conversion of native forests into biomass plantations will occur, resulting in the destruction of wildlife habitat. Marginal lands which may not have been previously farmed will be targeted for planting energy crops. These lands frequently have steeper grades and erosion, sedimentation and flooding will be the inevitable result.
It gets worse.
Municipal solid waste as well as sewage sludge is mixed with the biomass and burned in locations where garbage incineration was traditionally disallowed due to concerns over public health. Dioxins and furans are emitted in copious quantity from these “green” energy plants. Waste incineration is already the largest source of dioxin, the most toxic chemical known.
Providing increased waste disposal capacity only adds to the waste problem because it reduces the costs associated with waste generation, making recycling that much more uneconomic. In terms of dangerous toxins, land-filling is preferable to incineration. The ash that is left after incineration will be used in fertilizers, introducing the dangerous residual heavy metals into the food supply.
In reality biomass fuel isn’t sustainable or clean.
Cellulosic Ethanol: A Bio-Fool’s Errand?
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
The good news is that the cellulosic ethanol industry—turning trees and woody plants into liquid fuels—has yet to take off. And without an endless stream of taxpayer handouts to develop this polluting and environmentally destructive energy source, it probably never will.
Under the guise of taking action on climate change, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, expanding it under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.
According to Institute for Energy Research, the RFS "mandates the production of ethanol to the level of 36 billion gallons by 2022, where 15 billion gallons is to be corn-based and the remainder is to come from advanced forms of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.
"The advanced biofuel contribution starts at 0.6 billion gallons in 2009 increasing to 1.35 billion gallons in 2011, 2.0 billion gallons in 2012 and eventually to 21.0 billion gallons in 2022."
At first, the advanced biofuels component was set at an optimistic 0.6 billion gallons by 2009, 1.35 billion by 2011, 2.0 billion by 2012, and an obscene 21.0 billion by 2022. Yet the industry’s repeated botched attempts to break down wood cellulose into a usable fuel combined with overwhelming investor uncertainty—in the wake of corn ethanol’s recent fall from grace—meant refiners weren’t able to get their hands on anywhere near the EPA’s desired amount.
"Because cellulosic ethanol was not yet commercial, EPA issued changes to the original act that requires four separate standards including 1.0 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel by 2012 and 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels by 2022."
The requirement for motor fuel from cellulose was initially set at 250 million gallons by 2011 and 500 million by 2012. When that proved impossible, the EPA lowered the bar to 6.6 million gallons by 2011 and 8.65 million by 2012.
When big biofuels still couldn’t make the cut in 2011, the EPA fined refiners $6.8 million. Yet in January 2013, the DC District Court of Appeals struck down the mandate, ruling that it was unfair of the EPA to put refiners in an “impossible position” by punishing them for not buying and blending biofuels that didn’t exist. The EPA repaid the fines.
Wally Tyner, agricultural economist at Purdue University, claims in a Science Insider article that the court decision doesn’t entirely gut the RFS. Tyner concludes that if more cellulosic ethanol comes online in the future, the EPA will then be able to issue their beloved “blending mandates.”
Which won’t happen anytime soon. In 2012 the entire US biofuels industry brewed up only 20,069 gallons of cellulosic ethanol, according to Climatewire.
But the elusive nature of the magic tree gas hasn’t stopped some of the more enterprising bio-profiteers from cashing in. Rodney Hailey, owner of Maryland-based Clean Green Fuel, LCC, sold $9 million in “renewable fuel credits” for biofuels his company never even produced. In February 2013, a US District Court Judge sentenced Hailey to twelve years in the slammer for his sins.
Florida, Georgia, and Oregon have been the site of the industry’s latest casualties. Even the heaping fortunes of fossil fuels giant British Petroleum (BP) weren’t enough to make a go of a $350 million forest-to-fuels facility in Highlands County, Florida—which went belly up in 2012.
A $37 million federal grant and $235 million loan guarantee couldn’t prevent major financial difficulties that ultimately forced ZeaChem, a cellulosic ethanol company in Boardman, Oregon to “scale back plant operations…and let go a number of our valued employees” in March 2013. Only a few weeks before, the company had produced its first and only batch of ethanol. While ZeaChem insists they’re not throwing in the paper towel yet, a recent Oregonian article suggests otherwise.
Perhaps the highest profile bio-failure to date—dubbed the “Solyndra of biofuels” by some—is the shuttering of Range Fuels’ wood-to-ethanol factory in Treutlen County, Georgia. The corporation broke ground in 2007 with promises to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol, seducing the US Department of Energy (DOE) to fork over a $76 million grant. As one of his final acts as president, George W. Bush also doled out an $80 million loan guarantee. The facility was completed in 2010—after having absorbed $46.3 million of the DOE grant and $42 million of the loan—when Range Fuels jumped ship and sold the facility in 2011 for a mere $5.1 million—without having brewed up a single tank of gasoline.
Range Fuels and the company that snatched it up for pennies on the taxpayer subsidized dollar, LanzaTech, are financed by investment company Khosla Ventures. “Billionaire Vinod Khosla, who is known for investing in so-called black swan ideas and innovation that could disrupt markets, also sits on the LanzaTech board,” according to Smart Planet.
Despite the industry’s repeated losses right out of the gate, investors like Khosla keep betting on the same horse. In a fit of either desperation or supreme optimism, Khosla is also backing a Columbus, Mississippi cellulosic ethanol factory that produced its first shipment in March 2013, with plans to build another plant in Natchez, Mississippi later this year.
More ominously, Khosla invested through Mascoma Corporation in a proposal to build a cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Kinross, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula. When Mascoma struggled to find sufficient funding, Valero—the largest US refiner of traditional gasoline and the company that would process the dirty tar sands oil at the end of the yet-to-be-constructed Keystone pipeline in Texas—dropped $50 million into the project while agreeing to purchase up to 40 million gallons of the stuff.
Even with Khosla’s millions, in March 2013 Mascoma withdrew its registration for a $100 million initial public offering (IPO)—when a company goes from private to publicly trading on the stock market—blaming “market conditions.” Now the facility is being solely managed by Valero and its disturbingly long track record of Clean Air Act violations.
Pat Egan, area resident and former owner and publisher of the local daily newspaper, is fearful that with Valero acting as sugar daddy the Kinross facility stands a fairly good chance of creating a “commercial and viable product.” Add to this a $26 million grant from the feds, $80 million from DOE and $26 million from the state of Michigan, the facility is certainly a contender.
Before jumping ship, Mascoma conjured up a process called consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) to “develop genetically-modified yeasts and other microorganisms to reduce costs and improve yields in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.” It’s evident that commercial scale cellulosic biofuels can’t happen without the equally controversial—if not more so—practice of genetic engineering.
Perhaps the unholiest of marriages between the biofuels and genetic manipulation industries involves ArborGen, the progenitor of genetically modified freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees to convert into paper pulp and biofuels. The US Department of Agriculture just closed its public comment period in its consideration whether or not to allow the Franken-company to sell hundreds of millions of the experimental life form across Texas, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia.
In order for the Kinross project to work, according to Egan, the facility has to cut all its wood within a 150 mile radius. If you look at a map and draw a circle around the facility, Egan points out that one-third of it is water, including Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, and one-third of it is Canada. Egan believes a significant portion of the grant and development money will migrate north to Canada.
The facility would require a “phenomenal” amount of wood—1.1 million green tons per year to produce 20 million gallons, according to Egan. In comparison, a 50 megawatt biomass power incinerator burns about 500,000 green tons per year. The wood for Kinross would come primarily from pulpwood or whole trees in Michigan and Ontario, sixty to seventy cordwood trucks a day, said Egan.
Upper Peninsula-based Longyear Forestry, a partner in the project, is slated to be providing many of the trees to chip and convert into ethanol and has provided the land to site the facility. 56% of the wood would come from private land owners and the rest from public land, cutting down wild forests and monocrop tree plantations alike, including willow and aspen, explained Egan.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is “already changing their ten year forest plan to create more fast growing use of land,” said Egan. Two national forests, the Hiawatha National Forest and the Superior National Forest are within 150 miles. “All the state and federal sustainable cuts would still offer less than half of the wood supply the project may need.”
A Michigan State University Department of Forestry study acknowledged a limited woodshed in the region, admitting that already “wood-fired electric power plants consume large quantities of wood throughout Michigan and in the Kinross supply region.”
The Kinross biorefinery would provide about fifty to sixty five jobs, said Egan. Yet those numbers don’t include the loss of jobs from businesses competing for the same wood source—that don’t have the taxpayer subsidies to pay top dollar—such as fiberboard.
Not long ago, Pat thought the “bottom” use of wood was for electricity, but now believes “this ethanol thing can be even worse on per job basis.” He points to an area paper mill that employs 1,100. “All of a sudden the paper industry is looking like the good old days,” he said, worried that the refinery’s commandeering of local wood could knock the mill out of business. It’s a perfect example of the government “picking winners and losers.”
Egan refers to the potential biomass boom as the “third big cut”—the first cut being the initial land clearing by settlers in the 1800’s and the second cut taking place in the 20th century for lumber to build houses. Instead of trees growing to 80 to 120 years for high quality lumber, Egan warns that the biomass industry will only be waiting ten to twenty five years between cuts.
“People die” in refinery accidents, said Egan, including Valero’s refinery explosions in March 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee that killed one and injured two. It’s ironically cheaper to pay those fines—$63,000 in the case of Memphis—than make the preventative safety changes, said Egan. Though asked for an emergency plan, the developers have yet to deliver. The ethanol plant would be located within a few hundred yards of a Sioux Tribal Housing facility, with hundreds of residents living across the road. Down the road a couple miles are three state prisons with their captive population of thousands.
Egan is worried that, while so many other ethanol plants have gone bust, Kinross just might make it. He points to Mascoma’s experimental plant in Utica, New York where they claim to have “perfected” the process—burning through 25 million taxpayer dollars in the process. “As soon as they figure out non-food source ethanol and make it saleable and gasoline prices stay high,” warned Egan, they’ll be putting up “cookie cutter plants” all around the country.
So who would buy the ethanol? “If somebody can crack this nut and find the holy grail of commercial cellulosic biofuels, they have a ready made customer in the military,” said Egan. The US Department of Defense is aiming for 40% of their energy to come from biofuels by 2023. In 2012, the US Air Force tested its first ethanol in jets.
“Taking carbon traps, trees that grab carbon out of the air and grow and do so much more in terms of biodiversity,” Egan cautioned, “taking those down and releasing carbon is doing two horrible things.”
Kinross resident Larry Klein—who lives two miles from the proposed refinery site—is fighting the refinery in the courts, with the help of the Sierra Club of Michigan, suing through the NEPA process in regards to the Department of Energy’s $80 million grant. In November 2012, a judge threw out the case, which is now in appeals court in Cincinnati.Tags: forestsclimate
- by Mike Ewall, Co-Managing Editor, The Biomass Monitor
What does an incinerator industry do when it can’t compete? Change the rules. Biomass and trash incinerators are the most expensive way to make energy, and trash incineration costs more than directly landfilling the waste. These industries survive to the extent that they can change the rules to get monopoly waste contracts, become ‘renewable’ energy in state mandates (see this issue of the Monitor for biomass industry impacts from Oregon to Vermont), or as we’re seeing in Maryland: worse.
In 2011, Maryland became the first state to change their state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law to move trash incineration from the dirtier “Tier II” to the not-quite-as-dirty “Tier I” (where wind and solar, but also biomass and landfill gas compete). Many states with RPS laws have two tiers, where the cheaper, already-built, and dirtier technologies are put in a second tier menu of options where the credits are cheaper, and in Maryland’s case, where the mandate gets phased out over time. Putting trash incineration in the same tier as wind power creates a much larger and growing market with more valuable credits. Now several other states have seen proposals to do the same.
Maryland is now going crazier. Covanta (the nation’s largest waste incinerator corporation) wrote a bill now moving through the legislature that would be a municipal solid waste portfolio standard. Taking the notion from renewable energy laws, this law would phase in a 50% recycling goal, but also phase out direct landfilling of waste. By doing so, the law would create a strong incentive to incinerate waste before burying the ash. Done under “zero waste to landfill” rhetoric, this horrible bill might pass and become a model carried into other states. Watch out.
Due to the Clean Air Act violations both Klamath Falls and Lakeview, Oregon have experienced this winter, Save Our Rural Oregon is requesting an emergency moratorium on proposed biomass and biofuels projects in both communities.
Letters have been forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, asking for their support of an emergency moratorium on biomass and biofuels projects in both Klamath Falls and Lakeview. The letter asks for a stay on the issuance of any new or modified air quality discharge permit related to biomass and biofuels projects and on awarding site certificates on those projects not yet adjudicated by the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council.
“If they were already built, biomass projects proposed for both Klamath Falls and Lakeview would not only have made the air quality situation much worse but under anticipated sanctions placed upon us by EPA and DEQ starting in 2014, the biomass facilities would be exempt from shutting down and allowed to continue to burn while we citizens would be fined for heating our own homes,” said Paul Fouch, Executive Director of Save Our Rural Oregon. “If the upcoming sanctions were now in effect, these plants would never be built. We need to stop the placement of these proposed facilities before they are built, find solutions to our current air quality concerns, and reconsider these projects and their placement in the future.”
Biomass energy facilities are planned for Klamath Falls and Lakeview, communities that both have serious violations of the Clean Air Act – this winter the worst concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the entire United States. The 24 hour average PM 2.5 levels in Lakeview from 1/15/13-1/23/13 were 5 times the national standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, approaching 300 micrograms per cubic meter hourly. These are comparable to the well-known air quality conditions in Bejing, China.
Klamath Falls experienced similar conditions, as air quality was so poor that the EPA standard for PM2.5 for the entire year was exceeded by January 19, putting Klamath Falls out of compliance for 2014. This means that Klamath Falls will be facing sanctions in the form of emissions restrictions from industry and citizen wood burning activities, and restrictions on any new or modified air quality permits that increase overall emissions.
Klamath Bio Energy is in the final stage of siting an energy facility in Klamath Falls, of which SORO is currently involved in a Contested Hearing, soon to be heard and decided by the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council. Iberdrola Renewables has two projects underway – a facility in Lakeview where they are currently seeking to triple the amount of emissions from its original air discharge permit and a second project adjacent to the proposed KBE facility in Klamath Falls. Given the socio-economic conditions of these communities, SORO believes the proposed placement of these facilities is unfair from a social justice and public health perspective, and will make these economically depressed communities that already have the most severe health problems in the state of Oregon de facto sacrifice zones.
“The consequences to the health and economic well-being of our citizenry are enormous given the current emissions levels, much less with the additional fine particulate matter from a biomass industry that does not have a good track record meeting their Clean Air Act obligations," said Fouch.
“We understand the position of our Congressional delegation and local elected leaders, that biomass may promote economic revival through the forest jobs that these projects represent. However, EPA and DEQ have a responsibility to protect the health and well being of the citizens of Klamath Falls and Lakeview."health
- by Josh Schlossberg, Energy Justice Network
It’s good news that IBM is helping Burlington, Vermont lower its impact on the climate. [“IBM Wants to Help Burlington Reduce Its Carbon Footprint,” Seven Days, March 27]. Unfortunately, the city’s refusal to fix glaring errors in its Climate Action Plan prevents an honest look at Burlington’s actual contributions to runaway global climate change.
The Burlington Climate Action Plan reports the entire city’s carbon dioxide emissions for 2007—from all sources—at 397,272.4 tons. Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates the CO2 emissions of McNeil’s Generating Station alone—the 50 megawatt biomass incinerator supplying roughly one-third of the city’s electricity—at 444,646 tons per year. A closer look reveals that the city only counted 2% of McNeil’s emissions from the 30 cords of wood it burns per hour from New York and Vermont forests along with a varying percentage of natural gas (including fracked gas).
In a May 2012 email to the city, William Keeton, Professor of Forest Ecology and Forestry Chair at UVM’s Rubenstein School, wrote that “we cannot assume biomass energy to be emissions neutral,” recommending that Burlington acknowledge “the high likelihood of net positive emissions during the near term so critical for avoiding irreversible high magnitude climate change.”
In a September 2012 blog post, 350 Vermont urged Burlington to account for the “actual carbon dioxide smokestack emissions from the McNeil Station for the wood and gas burned, as calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
It’s very possible for Burlington to emerge as a leader in the fight against climate change. But how can we reduce our future carbon footprint if we won’t even acknowledge our current one?Tags: climate
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
Sometimes what seems like defeat in the short term can actually turn out to be victory in the long run. One such case involves the opposition to the construction of Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power incinerator in Eugene, Oregon. While the facility fired up its smokestacks for the first time in 2011, the effort to educate neighborhood residents about the health threats of the industrial polluter morphed into a powerful environmental justice movement in the low-income community surrounding the facility.
Alison Guzman (center) and Lisa Arkin (left) of Beyond Toxics in Eugene, Oregon
When Eugene-based Beyond Toxics (formerly Oregon Toxics Alliance) set out to question the “green” credentials of Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power plant in 2010—an 18.8 megawatt facility adjacent to the timber corporation’s existing lumber mill—they knew the deck was stacked against them. In a state where the timber industry still commands a great (some say disproportionate) amount of political influence, the organization wasn’t under any illusions that the corporation would voluntarily scrap its plans to profit off the sale of excess electricity to Eugene Water and Electric Board.
Surprisingly, despite Seneca Jones Timber Company’s dismal track record of clearcutting hundreds of thousands of acres of Oregon forests—including old growth—and dousing them with toxic herbicides—including in Eugene’s drinking watershed—few local or state environmental groups spoke out against the biomass incinerator.
In 2009, the Lane County Health Advisory Committee concluded that “biomass plants would add to our already overburdened air pollution problem in Eugene,” in a county that had been stuck with a “D” in air quality from the American Lung Association. This reality encouraged Beyond Toxics to zero in on the air pollution impacts of the proposed facility to the local community.
In 2010, Beyond Toxics hired Alison Guzman as a community organizer. West Eugene was already suffering from the pollution of a rail yard, a wood treatment plant, and several other sources of toxic contamination. Most industrial facilities emit a stew of poisons in the form of volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, according to Guzman, which the American Lung Association has linked to cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and birth defects. Unfortunately, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), a state agency with the mission to “protect public health, community well-being and the environment as a leader and advocate for the improvement and maintenance of air quality,” refused to acknowledge West Eugene as an environmental justice community.
“That’s when we got together to do canvassing to get an idea of health, income status and demographics and perspectives about quality of air” in the neighborhood, said Guzman.
Guzman and her colleagues learned that the hybrid industrial/residential neighborhood of West Eugene consisted of many low income residents and people of color—an 11 to 31 percent minority population, with Eugene’s average minority population at only 5 percent.
Beyond Toxics teamed up with Centro Latino Americano, a Eugene-based organization that advocates for members of the Latino community, to launch a canvass in West Eugene to build awareness and get the perspective of residents on the new polluter on the block. The canvass revealed that the majority of West Eugene residents had not been notified that the incinerator had been permitted and was under construction at the time.
Of the community members who were aware of the impending facility, some were concerned about exposure to particulate matter from wood burning—invisible particles that are so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream and internal organs—causing asthma and other serious health impacts. Even those Eugeneans most familiar with biomass health threats had been kept in the dark in regards to biomass incinerator emissions of carcinogenic acrolein, styrene, formaldehyde and heavy metals, none of which are reported in air pollution permits.
Sixty percent of the 350 residents canvassed had already detected air pollution issues and reported a high rate of self-reported asthma—thirty percent. Beyond Toxics contacted neighborhood schools and calculated an asthma rate of over thirteen percent, “significantly higher than the rest of the county and nation,” said Guzman. According to Guzman, the closest homes sit only 1,500 feet away from Seneca’s smokestack, the nearest elementary school is 1.5 miles away.
Using GIS to map industries, schools, health clinics, and access to services in West Eugene, Beyond Toxics found “correlations to health impacts with income status with that of percentage of minorities and where industries are located.”
Guzman finds it ironic how on a bad air day in Eugene, individuals are banned from using their woodstoves to heat their homes, while corporations like Seneca Sawmill can burn whatever they want. “We’re all sharing the same airshed,” reminds Guzman. “Nobody is measuring the cumulative impacts.”
Infographic by Eugene Weekly
While pollution isn’t at “the top of the list” for most people understandably focused on paying bills and feeding their kids, Guzman points out how “exposure to toxics leads to chronic health effects which come up later in life.” And it’s the families that end up footing the bills for these pollution-related health problems.
In April 2012, Beyond Toxics took two busloads of people, including Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Quality, journalists, students and concerned citizens on a guided tour through West Eugene. The bus stopped at “significant industrial sources,” including the operating Seneca Sawmill biomass incinerator, with Arkin listing off the chemicals released from each of the facilities.
“Just because an industry has a permit that doesn’t mean they’re not polluting,” Arkin reminded the passengers. 3,313,000 pounds of air toxics—96% of all air toxics in Eugene—were released in the zip code, according to Arkin, citing “disproportionate impacts” on the West Eugene community.
Other stops featured residents talking about their troubling experiences with their industrial neighbors. Arcenia, a West Eugene resident of ten years, told how her child has suffered from asthma since birth and how she can’t open the windows some days. Another local, Josefina, said “sometimes we’d like to go for a walk with our families, but we can’t because the stink is just so bad.” When Marina moved to the neighborhood two years prior, on the very first day her thirteen year old daughter felt “nauseous and dizzy,” which she links to local air pollution.
While the Seneca Sawmill biomass facility fired up in 2011—only to promptly fail its first air pollution test—the biomass resistance in Eugene isn’t over.
Beyond Toxics is working on a GIS system to plot locations to conduct their own testing of Seneca’s incinerator emissions. The organization is also teaming up with Oregon State University on a pilot project to distribute a bracelet which can be worn by neighborhood residents to measure levels of exposure to toxic air pollution. The hope is that the data gleaned from these studies can be used to make the case against the construction of new biomass incinerators elsewhere.
Extending beyond the biomass issue, the community organizing efforts have created a “broader discourse under the framework of environmental justice,” said Guzman. “How can communities in the future be a part of the decision making process?” Beyond Toxics continues to work with residents to ensure that West Eugene’s industrial corridor doesn’t keep recruiting the same sort of polluting industries that have been setting shop over the decades.
The environmental justice spotlight has already helped spur the cleanup of a pond where toxic creosote logs had been dumped by Pacific Railway years before, as well as move a proposed housing development to a site further from sources of local pollution. Other ripples include increased discourse on the access to health care in the neighborhood and the creation of community gardens.
“We are the guinea pigs,” said Guzman, “in terms of being small enough to make a change and big enough to make an impact,” not just in Oregon but the rest of the nation, and possibly the world.Tags: healthenvironmental justice
Biomass Industry Fights Transparency
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
I was pleased to see the VT Digger opinion piece by Bill Kropelin, chief forester for Burlington Electric Department’s McNeil biomass incinerator, in response to Energy Justice Network’s McNeil Biomass Forest Map—since a public discussion on the health and environmental impacts of industrial-scale “biomass” energy in Vermont is long overdue.
Logging for McNeil biomass incinerator in Buels Gore, Vermont
As we all know, we are at a crossroads in regards to our energy choices. No longer can we depend on climate-busting and rapidly dwindling fossil fuels or risky nuclear energy to power our lifestyles. While the first step is radical energy efficiency, conservation, and “destruction of demand”—which can only be truly accomplished by adapting our ways of life to what the planet can sustain—it’s clearly time for appropriately sited and scaled, genuinely clean, renewable energy.
However, not all renewable energy is created equal. While every form of “alternative” energy—from solar to wind to hydro to geothermal—has impacts on the environment and human health, by far the most harmful of these options is industrial-scale biomass incineration. Whether it’s a good idea or not, it may be inevitable that more trees will be burned in the northeast to heat our homes through our long cold winters (which, thanks to climate change, are actually getting warmer and shorter). But Vermonters are starting to understand the folly of burning our precious forests for a highly inefficient, polluting, and obsolete method of electricity generation.
Vermont already has two large biomass power incinerators, McNeil Generating Station in Burlington and Ryegate Power Station in Caledonia County (not counting several smaller combined heat and power facilities and wood heating plants, and tens of thousands of outdoor wood boilers and wood stoves). Despite already consuming 650,000 tons of wood per year to fuel these two massive incinerators alone, which operate at 25% efficiency—effectively wasting three out of four trees—there are two other large biomass power incinerators proposed for Fair Haven (west of Rutland) and Springfield which would consume another 870,000 tons—totaling 1.52 million tons of wood per year, the rough equivalent of 13,000 acres of annual clearcuts.
The latest science has demonstrated that biomass power plants emit higher levels of asthma-causing particulate matter and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds per unit of energy produced than a typical coal plant—debunking biomass industry claims of “clean” energy. Science has also concluded that biomass incinerators emit more climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from the smokestack per unit of energy produced than a typical coal plant (with some studies citing a “permanent” increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide)—taking care of the “green” claims as well.
Which brings us to Vermont’s iconic forests, the focus of Energy Justice Network’s McNeil Biomass Forest Map. Aside from acting as a natural climate buffer, forests produce clean air and filter pure water, create fertile topsoil, prevent flooding and erosion, and provide recreation and tourism dollars. Numerous reports predict a massive uptick in forest degradation from the rush to mine trees for biomass power.
While Kropelin implies that the McNeil Biomass Forest Map somehow exaggerates the logging for McNeil, the acreage shown on the map is actually only the tip of the (melting) iceberg, since estimates of anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of McNeil’s wood is logged in New York State. Further, the map only includes 2010 logging sources in Vermont for McNeil, and doesn’t include logging for the Ryegate Power Station, out of state biomass incinerators, smaller biomass facilities or home heating.
The McNeil Biomass Forest Map will only depict the true forest footprint of an industrial scale biomass energy facility once at least ten years of the mapping is complete and we are able to access maps for New York State—which have thus far has been denied to us.
The biomass industry insists any opposition to an expansion of biomass energy is alarmist. Meanwhile, the only objective evidence we have is to measure the current forest impact from existing biomass incinerators and extrapolate from that. You’d think that the biomass industry, in order to prove how “sustainable” their practices are, would already be making this information publicly available. Yet, not only isn’t industry taking these steps towards transparency, they are speaking out against objective forest monitoring efforts like the McNeil Biomass Forest Map.
Does that make you feel any more confident about the biomass industry’s plans for the Green Mountain state?Tags: forests
An experimental trash and sewage sludge incinerator, planned in the heart of the Hispanic community in the City of Allentown, Pennsylvania is being challenged by Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA). The group just submitted over 2,000 signatures to put a Clean Air Ordinance we wrote on the November ballot as an initiative. If this ballot initiative passes, Delta Thermo Energy will have to comply with strict requirements to do real-time monitoring of many toxic pollutants, and will have to disclose the data on a website real-time. They'll also have to control their emissions so that they are as clean as a gas-burning power plant of the same size. Considering that the company is appealing the most minimal requirements set by the state, it's unlikely that they'll proceed to build the incinerator if they have to comply with real standards for accountability. Read on for the group's press release or check out a flyer summarizing the issue and the Clean Air Ordinance.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
More Than 2,000 Signatures Have Been Submitted for Allentown Clean Air Ordinance Ballot Initiative
Allentown Pa. – On March 16th, Allentown residents delivered over 2,000 signatures successfully gathered by the filing deadline for a ballot initiative in an effort to place their drafted clean air ordinance on the Allentown ballot in November.
The Allentown Clean Air Ordinance, if passed by the voters in November, would require around the clock monitoring of emissions from new waste burning facilities, while capping the kinds of emissions that can cause cancer, asthma, and COPD. Under Pennsylvania’s Air Pollution Control Act, towns and municipalities are allowed to pass stricter air pollution laws than state regulations.
Allentown Residents for Clean Air and the petition drive were organized by Allentown residents with the help of Energy Justice Network in response to Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s trash and sewage sludge incinerator proposal. The facility has been contracted by the Mayor and City Council for 35 years, but is still embroiled in a legal dispute with the state over their permit, and may not yet have adequate funding to move forward. If built, Delta Thermo Energy, a New Jersey company, would burn 100 tons a day of city trash and 50 tons a day of sewage sludge. The incinerator would be Delta Thermo’s first and would be classified as an experimental facility due to a novel combination of three technologies that would allow the operator to skirt state regulations.
In addition, the 35-year contract would create a disincentive for the city to prioritize waste reduction efforts such as recycling and composting that would preclude the need for both landfill expansion and incineration. Allentown Residents’ goal is to pass strict monitoring requirements and an emissions cap on pollutants like carbon monoxide, acid gases, volatile organic compounds, toxic metals, and dioxins such that Delta Thermo and investors would no longer be attracted to Allentown.
“It’s just common sense to expect an experimental waste-burning operation to use modern equipment that would tell us what is really coming out of their smokestack, and for their emissions to be as clean as they claim,” said Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network. “However, this company is fighting the state, not wanting to comply with the most minimal requirements set in their permit, and wants even lower standards. I have no doubt that if we pass a reasonable clean air law, irresponsible companies like Delta Thermo will chose not to build their polluting experiment in the city.”
“We’ve been talking to many parents of kids with asthma, and others who suffer from the air pollution we already have. Burning 150 tons of waste each day in the heart of the city can only make things worse,” said Rich Fegley. “Alternatives like recycling and composting create 10 times more jobs than burning or burying waste. We can do better. In fact, San Francisco just reached 80% diversion from landfills and incinerators – a direction Allentown should try, rather than pick the dirtiest and most expensive way to handle waste.”
If the city clerk verifies that the signatures are valid, the ballot initiative would be present on the November ballot, so that Allentown voters can vote on whether they city should adopt the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance.
Allentown Residents for Clean Air is a diverse grassroots community organization organized to stop the Delta Thermo Energy incinerator. http://www.facebook.com/stoptheburnallentown
The Energy Justice Network is a Philadelphia-based national organization that supports communities threatened by polluting energy and waste technologies. Taking direction from a grassroots base and the Principles of Environmental Justice, EJN advocates a clean energy, zero-emission, zero-waste future for all. On their website, EJN proposes their own Energy Justice Platform.
This is from October 2012, but still worth celebrating. We keep dealing with communities where local officials want to pursue incineration (not realizing that it's the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to dispose of waste) while they haven't even tried to get serious about zero waste programs (redesign / reduce / reuse / recycle / compost). San Francisco is leading the way, having managed to hit 80% diversion of waste from landfills and incinerators. Other communities, like Austin, Texas, have developed ambitious zero waste plans as well and find them economically viable even while competing with super-cheap landfilling fees of only $20/ton. Read on for the news from San Francisco:
San Francisco reports record 80% diversion rate
October 5, 2012
By Jeremy Carroll, Waste & Recycling News
San Francisco extended its best-in-the-country diversion rate, reporting the city has achieved an 80% landfill diversion rate.
Mayor Edwin Lee made the announcement today.
The city previously led the nation in diversion with 78% for 2010-2011, up from 72% in 2009-2010. In addition to collecting plastics, metals and paper, the city collects food waste and yard waste to be turned into compost. Recology Inc. is the exclusive hauler for the city.
"Recycling and composting is not only good for our environment, it is also good for our economy," Lee said in a statement. "Recycling alone creates 10 times more jobs than simply sending refuse to the landfill, and I applaud Recology, the Department of Environment and San Franciscans for reaching this record milestone of 80% diversion."
Michael Sangiacomo, president and CEO of Recology, said it is proud to be a partner in this achievement and hopes to continue to help the city reach its zero-waste goal by 2020.
"Innovative policies, financial incentives, as well as outreach and education are all effective tools in our toolbox that have helped San Francisco reach 80% diversion," said San Francisco Department of Environment director Melanie Nutter in a statement. "We would not have achieved this milestone without the hard work and partnership of many people and businesses across the city."
The city said of the 444,000 tons of material sent to the landfill in the last fiscal year, about half of it could have been recycled or composted.
More details at:
Genetically Engineered Trees for Bioenergy Pose Major Threat to Southern Forests
In response to industry plans to develop eucalyptus plantations across the US South, environmental groups are raising serious concerns about the impacts of eucalyptus plantations on forests, rural communities, wildlife and the climate, especially if those trees are genetically engineered.
A recent boom in the southern biomass industry adds to the concern that industry plans to use GE eucalyptus, pine and poplar in biomass incinerators and cellulosic biofuel plants across the region. European energy companies RWE, Drax and E.On are currently importing or have plans to import wood pellets produced in the southern US, a trend which could increase the demand for plantations of fast-growing, genetically engineered tree species. Fortunately, GE trees are not yet approved for large-scale commercial plantations.
EcoGen, LLC recently announced plans to develop eucalyptus plantations in southern Florida to feed biomass facilities. Additionally, South Carolina-based ArborGen has requested USDA permission to sell billions of genetically engineered cold tolerant eucalyptus trees for plantations in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The USDA recently announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and solicit public comment for ArborGen’s request.
Eucalyptus trees are documented as an invasive pest in California and Florida. But because they cannot grow in sub-freezing temperatures, they have been engineered to be cold-tolerant, enabling them to survive temperatures below 20°f – vastly expanding their range.
Besides being highly invasive–the Charlotte Observer called them “the kudzu of the 2010s”–eucalyptus plantations deplete ground water and can even worsen droughts. The US Forest Service opposes GE eucalyptus plantations due to their impact on ground water and streams.
“GE eucalyptus trees are a disaster waiting to happen–it is critical the USDA reject them,” said Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director Anne Petermann. “In addition to being invasive, eucalyptus trees are explosively flammable. In a region that has been plagued by droughts in recent years, developing plantations of an invasive, water-greedy and fire-prone tree is foolhardy and dangerous.”
Petermann coordinates the international STOP GE Trees Campaign, which has collected thousands of signatures supporting a ban on GE trees due to their potentially catastrophic impacts on communities and forests.
“The forests of the Southeast are some of the most biodiverse in the world,” said Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director of Asheville, NC-based Dogwood Alliance. “They contain species found nowhere else. Species like the Louisiana Black Bear, the golden-cheeked warbler and the red-cockaded woodpecker are already endangered. Eucalyptus plantations could push these and other species over the edge,” he added.
The Georgia Department of Wildlife opposes GE eucalyptus trees due to these impacts.
The STOP GE Trees Campaign is planning events around the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference this May in Asheville, NC, where GE tree industry representatives and researchers will gather to discuss the use of GE trees and their deployment across the US South.
You can sign the petition calling on the USDA to ban GE trees at http://globaljusticeecology.org/petition.php
For more information on the dangers of GE trees, visit http://nogetrees.org
To get involved with the campaign, or to find out more about the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference and protests, contact Will Bennington at will [at] globaljusticeecology [dot] orgTags: forests
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- by Nathan Johnson, Buckeye Forest Council
News broke on January 30th that Todd Snitchler, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) was a keynote speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) task-force meeting in April 2011. As many readers know, ALEC has been aggressively pushing for the repeal of renewable energy standards at state legislatures across the country. The PUCO determines whether Ohio-based energy projects, including biomass projects, receive renewable energy certification entitling them to renewable energy credits and satisfaction of the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
Moreover, local news reports recently revealed that Chairman Snitchler’s Twitter account is rife with statements and re-tweets evidencing a deep hostility towards all things green and renewable energy.
Highlights include Snitchler retweeting a story titled "Elites of West have cranked up myth of Global Warming" from the Russian newspaper Pravda, calling it "interesting;" tweeting that, "clean-energy aid racks up losses" and "the Himalayas and nearby peaks have lost no ice in past 10 years, study shows"; and retweeting "electric cars pose environmental threat," ''after Sandy no one lined up for wind turbines," and that the "'green' religion is taking over from Christian religion."
The discovery of Snitchler’s tweets comes at an interesting time. Snitchler joined a 3-1 vote in late January rejecting American Electric Power's proposal to incorporate power from the Turning Point Solar Project into its renewable energy portfolio. The vote ignored the advice of commission staff and is likely to kill the Turning Point Project which, at 50 megawatts, would have been one of the largest solar arrays east of the Mississippi.
The Ohio Public Utilities Commission is currently considering updates to several of its rules, including rules relating to public disclosure. The public comment period for the PUCO’s proposed rule package ended on February 6th. The Buckeye Forest Council (BFC) submitted comments that highlight the lack of transparency found in the PUCO’s biomass-related disclosure requirements.
Currently, utilities operating in Ohio are required to disclose to their customers the types and amounts of fuel used to generate the electricity they sell in the state. Unfortunately, the PUCO’s current rules only require that utilities disclose biomass fuel sources under a monolithic, catch-all category called “biomass power.”
BFC’s comments point out that greater transparency is already required by the Generation Tracking Attribute System (GATS), with which Ohio utilities are currently required to register and report. For example, (GATS) tracks and discloses biomass resource mix under at least eight separate categories:
• Wood: Black Liquor
• Wood: Paper Pellets, Railroad Ties, Utility Poles, Wood Chips, and other wood solids
• Wood: Red Liquor, Sludge Wood, Spent Sulfite Liquor, and other wood related liquids not specified
• Other Biomass: Digester Gas, Methane, and other biomass gases
• Other Biomass: Ethanol, Fish Oil, Liquid Acetonitrile Waste, Medical Waste, Tall Oil, Waste Alcohol, and other biomass liquids not specified
• Other Biomass: Both Animal Manure and Waste, Solid Byproducts, and other solid biomass not specified
• Other Biomass: Sludge Waste
• Solid Waste: Municipal Solid Waste
In addition, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tracks state-by state biomass mix generation under at least two separate categories: “Wood and Wood Derived Fuels” and “Other Biomass.” In short, information regarding biomass fuel mix is readily available and in fact required reporting for Ohio utilities via GATS. The PUCO needs to catch up and require more in-depth disclosure of biomass fuel mixture to Ohio’s energy consumers.Tags: forests
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
A new study out of Norway demonstrates what opponents of biomass energy have been saying for years: logging forests for bioenergy leads to a permanent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Bjart Holtsmark’s study, “The outcome is in the assumptions: analyzing the effects on atmospheric CO2 levels of increased use of bioenergy from forest biomass,” published in Global Change Biology in 2012, provides compelling evidence that the expansion of industrial-scale biomass energy will exacerbate climate change.
Scientific studies focusing on the greenhouse gas emissions of burning forests for electricity and/or heat have evolved significantly over the past few years. Earlier studies assuming the carbon neutrality of biomass energy gave way to a more recent acceptance of a short-term carbon debt (decades to centuries) with long-term carbon neutrality, leading up to today’s conclusion that “wood fuels are not carbon neutral, neither in the long term nor in the short term.”
Holtsmark’s paper evaluates five previous studies on carbon dioxide emissions from biomass energy— Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences (2010), Cherubini (2011), McKechnie (2011) and Holtsmark (2012)—and adjusts some of their flawed methodologies, determining that “when the most realistic assumptions are used…an increased harvest level in forests leads to a permanent increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration.”
One previous error in methodology involved basing calculations of greenhouse gas emissions on a single logging event in a forest stand, as opposed to the more realistic scenario of multiple logging events. “IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] documents, such as Chum et al. (2012), envisage a permanent increase in the use of bioenergy and, accordingly, a higher harvest rate,” explains Holtsmark, finding that “results change fundamentally” when multiple forest entries are taken into account.
Holtsmark also corrects the assumption that forests are always cut at peak growth, which is rarely the case due to economic pressures to log as quickly and often as possible. Further, Holtsmark highlights the need to measure carbon dioxide emissions against a baseline scenario of an unlogged forest “in which the trees are still growing, thus capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.”
“Technically speaking, this has never been a complicated issue,” said Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, whose organization has been calling attention to the health and environmental impacts of biomass energy in New England since 2007. “All that has ever been necessary to realize that increased cutting and burning of forests is not ‘carbon neutral’ is second grade math.”
“Ongoing logging to fuel ongoing biomass operations will add carbon to the atmosphere at the smoke stack,” Matera explained, “and increased removals will increase stress to forests and soils, and will likely reduce overall, long term growth rates thus also adding to atmospheric carbon levels – by absorbing less.”
“Instead, we need to do the opposite, let forests grow and expand as much as possible to clean up the mess we have made of our air and atmosphere.”Tags: climateforests
Photos Show Whole Trees Burned for Biomass Power
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
New evidence has emerged once again proving that biomass power incinerators burn whole trees—not just wood “residues”—for fuel. The photographs below (taken in December 2012) show thousands of trees stacked and awaiting the chipper at Hemphill Power and Light, a 14-megawatt biomass power incinerator in Sullivan County, New Hampshire. Click here for more photos.
Biomass Power Association’s Bob Cleaves said in a June 2010 article in Power-Gen Worldwide that his organization is “not aware of any facilities that use whole trees for energy and that it is not an economically sustainable approach to biomass as the cost of cutting down one tree outweighs the potential energy benefits.” Yet as consumer demand for lumber in a collapsed housing market remains stagnant, the timber industry has been liquidating forests for biomass energy.
Past documentation of the use of whole trees for biomass power incinerators has included photos taken at the McNeil Generating Station, a 50-megawatt biomass incinerator in Burlington, Vermont and at McNeil’s railcar loading site in Swanton, Vermont [below].
While currently the majority of wood fueling biomass power incinerators such as Hemphill and McNeil comes from tree tops and limbs, also known as wood “residues”—which contain the highest nutrient content in the tree and are an essential component of forest soils—an increase in biomass power incinerator proposals in the US and Europe (which intends to source much of its wood from the US) means competition for a limited fuel source and an increase in burning whole trees.
“The idea that we can provide enough ‘waste and residue’ from forestry operations to fuel these electric utilities is pure bunk,” said Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch, based in the US and UK. “They require thousands, even millions of tons per year depending on capacity. In Europe, huge coal plant conversion plans are underway and whole trees are being pelletized and shipped across the Atlantic to be burned there.”
“The sheer volume—current plans in UK alone will require over 63 million tonnes of pellets per year—can only be met by using whole trees,” said Smolker. “When we see and photograph whole trees going into these facilities we know the claims are false. When we see piles of woodchips and pellets there’s a very good chance those were once whole trees as well.”
The Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), the fifth largest producer of containerboard and corrugated products in US, concerned about a 50-megawatt Rothschild, Wisconsin biomass power proposal (currently under construction) warned: “It would seem that the simplest and perhaps only alternative for [the biomass developer] is to procure pulpwood to be chipped as fuel. This obviously will raise the cost not only of pulpwood but also of biomass across the region.”
PCA also cautioned that “the scale of operations may also result in unforeseen forest management impacts, e.g., clearcutting of northern hardwood stands for whole tree chips.”Tags: forests
Green Group Appeals California Biomass Proposal
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit environmental organization based in Arizona, is appealing a December 2012 Placer County Planning Commission decision to adopt a conditional use permit and certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility. Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) alleges that the EIR for the 2.2-megawatt biomass power incinerator “does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Cabin Creek biomass incinerator is proposed for a site two miles from 16,000-resident Truckee and within 1,500 feet of the nearest residence. The facility had previously been proposed for Kings Beach on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe but was relocated following fierce opposition from community residents.
The goal of the Center’s Climate Law Institute, which is undertaking the appeal through the efforts of its San Francisco-based Senior Attorney Kevin Bundy, is “to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution to protect biological diversity, the environment, and public health.”
Biomass incineration, “although often touted as a ‘clean’ alternative to fossil-fueled generation, has potentially significant environmental impacts of its own,” according to the Center’s comments on the project’s Final EIR. With 450,000 members and online activists, Center for Biological Diversity is one of the few large national environmental organizations to take legal action against the recent rash of biomass power incinerator proposals across the US.
“Absent proper consideration of these impacts—particularly air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and effects on forest habitat associated with the harvest and combustion of woody biomass, decision-makers and the public may be misled as to the benefits and environmental drawbacks of a biomass project,” according to Bundy’s comments.
CBD’s appeal cites concerns with the EIR’s accounting for carbon dioxide emissions, the description of its wood fuel mix, and lack of analysis of ecosystem impacts from logging, stating that the EIR “fails to adequately disclose and analyze the Project’s potential effects on forest management, forests, and habitat.”
The California Environmental Quality Act “requires an evaluation of a project’s physical impact on the environment,” states CBD, which the EIR does not adequately undertake, particularly in regards to greenhouse gas emissions. Instead the EIR simply claims the biomass facility won’t violate existing laws. Bundy’s comments maintain that a promise not to violate laws isn’t the same as studying the actual environmental impacts of a particular facility.
A July 2012 Wall Street Journal article revealed that out of 107 biomass power incinerators investigated, “85 have been cited by state or federal regulators for violating air-pollution or water-pollution standards at some time during the past five years.”
CBD refers to biomass incineration as “especially carbon-intensive, and has been shown to cause increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations over a period of decades to centuries depending on the feedstock.” Bundy refers to AB 32, whose goal is to “to reduce California greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020” and charges that the EIR therefore “must analyze the cumulative significance of the Project’s emissions in light of the emissions reductions needed to avoid contributing to the actual physical impacts of climate change.”
CBD issues the reminder that even AB 32 may be insufficient and to avoid the “devastating effects” of runaway climate change “industrialized countries will have to reduce emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.”
The controversial practice of forest “thinning” for so-called “fire fuels reduction”—which critics denounce as simply more commercial logging—results in “long-term atmospheric CO2 increases if combusted for bioenergy.” The collection and burning of high-nutrient “forest residuals” left over after logging for biomass energy also “may affect overall greenhouse gas emissions.”
Much of the Center’s criticism of the Cabin Creek EIR focuses on its claims that all the wood to be burned in the incinerator would otherwise be burned in the forest following logging operations. CBD criticizes the woody fuels description as “inconsistent, internally contradictory, and inadequate” to support that assumption.
While the EIR maintains that 95% of the wood would be burned in the open, “numerous other statements in the EIR [make] clear that not all forest-sourced materials are disposed of by burning.” The comments refer to a US Forest Service document calculating that “combustion efficiencies range from 75 to 95 percent” and in the Western US only “85 or 90 percent of fuels would be consumed in a burn pile.”
CBD’s comments also point out that the EIR language allows for the burning of “urban wood waste” in the biomass incinerator, which could otherwise be repurposed, recycled or disposed of without combustion.
“If a mere 5 percent of Project fuels would not otherwise have been burned in the open,” read Bundy’s comments, “or the combustion efficiency of burn piles falls short by just five percentage points, then the Project’s greenhouse gas emissions would fail to achieve the efficiency threshold adopted in the EIR.”
The Center broaches the issue of competition for a limited fuel source, noting that the EIR “acknowledges that some of this material is currently being used as fuel by other biomass facilities” and that other incinerators will have to “satisfy their demand for those fuels from other sources.” The end result of this increased competition would likely be more cutting and burning of forests. CBD calls for an analysis of the overlapping “woodsheds” of operating and proposed biomass facilities in the region to understand the “cumulative interactions” between facilities and the “overall effect on fuel demand.”
An appeal hearing will be scheduled in the coming months.Tags: climateforests
The Cellulosic Myth
- by Brian Tokar
[Excerpted from Agriculture and Food in Crisis, edited by Brian Tokar and Fred Magdoff]
As concerns about agrofuels’ implications for food supplies and the environment have become more widespread, proponents have reaffirmed their claims that current technologies are merely a “stepping stone” to more sustainable biofuel production from the cellulose in grasses and trees, rather than from food starches and oilseed crops. They predict that the world will soon obtain increasing yields of liquid fuel extracted from prairie grasses, logging wastes and forest thinnings, as well as agricultural byproducts such as straw and corn stover (i.e., leaves and stems). The extraction of ethanol from these high-cellulose sources, however, is a complex, energy-consuming process involving many stages of enzymatic digestion and purification of breakdown products, followed by the fermentation of sugars into ethanol. Alternative processes, such as the high temperature gasification and distillation of cellulosic feedstocks—technically similar to the liquefaction of coal—have proven equally difficult to commercialize.
Logging for biomass energy in Vermont
The most popular scenario for fuel extraction from cellulosic sources relies mainly on the use of wild or cultivated grasses, such as the varieties of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) that briefly became synonymous with “cheap, abundant fuel” after President George W. Bush mentioned switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union address. But harvesting grasses for fuel raises a host of new problems. Grass monocultures are highly dependent on nitrogen fertilizers and irrigation, while diverse grasslands, with healthy populations of leguminous plants, are highly productive and far better at sequestering carbon dioxide as soil organic matter. However, the use of mixed feedstocks in any industrial process significantly complicates the enterprise. Further, many grass species deemed suitable for agrofuel production are considered highly invasive. “[T]raits deemed ideal in a bioenergy crop,” reported one study, “are also commonly found among invasive species,” traits that include lack of known pests or diseases, high efficiency of water use and photosynthesis, rapid growth, and the ability to out-compete weeds in the spring.
In the United States, the most likely source of grass-based agrofuels is from grasslands now set aside under the Agriculture Department’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). In June 2006, representatives of twenty-two leading conservation and hunting advocacy groups wrote to Congress challenging proposals to grow fuel crops on conservation lands, citing the program’s remarkable success in reducing soil erosion, reducing weed pressure, and preserving wetlands. “Most at risk are the wildlife benefits of CRP,” the letter stated, “which to a great extent are simply not compatible with frequent harvesting.” Unlike the periodic fire disturbances that are necessary to sustain prairie ecosystems, harvesting grasslands returns few nutrients to the soil, and harvesting equipment would likely prove far more disruptive to wildlife than the spread of wildfire.
The use of crop residues for fuel also raises serious questions, as these materials are essential for soil conservation and play an essential role in agronomic cycles. The decomposition of crop residues tilled back into the soil after harvest is necessary for the maintenance of soil health, while growers who practice “no till” cultivation rely on the same residues as a mulch and for protection against soil erosion. Collecting and separating corn stover from the grain would require redesigned, probably heavier, combines, adding to farmers’ costs and to soil compaction. A 2007 study by researchers at two Department of Energy laboratories concluded that a maximum of 30 percent of crop residues could be removed without increasing soil erosion and lessening soil organic matter.
Finally, the proposed thinning of forests and removal of dead trees and branches for fuel production would reduce carbon sequestration and also threaten wildlife habitats. The experience of biomass power plants in the U.S. suggests that harvesting wood for fuel inevitably increases logging, whether in forests or on plantations dedicated to fuel production. Thinning operations disturb the forest floor, accelerating the loss of soil carbon as CO 2 . The push for cellulosic agrofuels has served to justify the expansion of monoculture tree plantations, as well as the development of genetically engineered trees, most notably the varieties of fast-growing eucalyptus that have been modified to survive in cooler climates such as those found in the Southeastern U.S. The South Carolina-based Arborgen company has repeatedly cited the search for appropriate biofuel feedstocks as a rationale for its aggressive development of genetically engineered tree varieties, and agrofuel development has also become a leading rationale for commercializing the exotic new genetic interventions known as “synthetic biology.”