THE BIOMASS MONITOR monthly newsletter is the only publication in the U.S. covering the health and environmental impacts from industrial-scale "biomass" energy.

Managing Editors - Rachel Smolker and Mike Ewall
Editor & Journalist - Josh Schlossberg

A publication of Energy Justice Network, Biofuelwatch, and Florida League of Conservation Voters.


(The Biomass Monitor: May 2013 - Vol. 4, issue 5

Cellulosic Ethanol: A Bio-Fool's Errand?

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. 

When big biofuels 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... [READ MORE]


"Franken-trees" for Bioenergy Threaten Southern Forests

The realities of climate change have become altogether painfully obvious. Many are working to address this by reducing consumption, and protecting landscapes and biodiversity.

ArborGen and other tree biotechnology companies, however, have a different vision. They want to develop so-called “bio-energy” from massive plantations of genetically engineered (GE) trees across South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. They are banking on the fact that most renewable energy subsidies are directed towards wood-based bioenergyfunding refineries to convert wood into liquid biofuelsand to construct new facilities and convert aging coal-fired plants to incinerate massive quantities of wood for electricity.

In the U.S. and Europe, bioenergy already is the second largest form of renewable energy (excluding hydro) and the IEA estimates that bioenergy will be the most rapidly growing renewable, through 2035. In Europe, coal-fired plants are undergoing conversion to burn trees. These plants depend almost entirely on imports—resulting in a rush to build facilities to transform southern forests into wood pellets for export. A growing coalition is mobilizing to stop this... [READ MORE]

Report: "Unintended Consequences" from Biomass Boom

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... [READ MORE]

Trees for Hemphill Power & Light biomass incinerator in New Hampshire

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... [READ MORE]

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... [READ MORE]

New Book: ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth

ENERGY explores the impacts of, and the ideas behind, the global energy economy, which is toxic to nature and people. From oil spills, nuclear accidents, and mountaintop-removal coal mining, virtually every region is now experiencing out-of-control energy development. Essentially no place is safe from the relentless search for energy resources to continue powering an economy based on perpetual growth. Human health and the health of nature are threatened.

In a large-format, photo driven narrative (including 200 color photos), ENERGY features the writings of more than thirty leading thinkers on energy, society, and ecology... [READ MORE]


The Passive House concept represents today's highest energy standard with the promise of slashing the heating energy consumption of buildings by an amazing 90%. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that buildings are responsible for 48% of greenhouse gas emissions annually and 76% of all electricity generated by U.S. power plants goes to supply the Building Sector.

A Passive House is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation also helps to limit any cooling load, which is similarly minimized. An energy recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply... [READ MORE]

From the Editor

by Rachel Smolker, Managing Editor

When I look back over the years of working as an activist, I can’t help seeing a repeating pattern: Some dumb idea (like burning trees for electricity) is proposed, we organize to the best of our ability, and...usually do not succeed as thoroughly as we would like. Then some years later, the negative consequences we were concerned about come to pass and the only thing for us to do is say “told ya so.” This issue of The Biomass Monitor really brings that into focus. 

Back some years ago, we warned that using food crops for biofuels would result in escalating food prices and hunger. Then when industry and governments claimed that those were only “stepping stones” to a future where fuels would be made from “cellulosic” (non-food) biomass, we warned that this might never be possible and/or could take millions of dollars and many years to become feasible. As the article “Bio-Fool's Errand” indicates: we were right about that. 

When burning trees for electricity was first promoted for “reducing emissions,” we argued that it would result in more, not less CO2. That has since been demonstrated over and over and—here in "Unintended Consequences"—over yet again. When people began organizing to oppose GMOs, they argued that there could be dangerous health risks, cross contamination, and various other consequences. Those have largely been proven true (just this week, a new study on the health impacts of Roundup, the herbicide used on GMO roundup-resistant crops was released). Now GE trees are looming on the horizon. Will we, years from now, be assessing the damages and saying “told ya so” or, this time, can we learn from our previous mistakes, gather the forces and just say NO!?

Biomass Buster of the Month

Jenny Weber -- South Tasmania, Australia

A global anti-biomass movement is the only way to stop the “biomassacre,” says Jenny Weber of Southern Tasmania, Australia. An “activist with a global conscience,” Jenny points to biomass incinerators in the US and UK that are “feeding on the global forests.”

On April 15, Jenny coordinated an International Day of Action against bioenergy, enlisting biomass opponents across Australia, the UK, the US, Germany, and Italy to post pictures of themselves holding up anti-biomass solidarity signs on the website
as a visual petition.

In Australia, Jenny and her colleagues organized a mailing in advance of the Federal Election which—with a push from the Greens—convinced the Federal Government to disqualify native forest biomass as renewable energy. They also launched an online letter writing campaign asking electricity and fuel companies to reject native forest biomass.

“In this critical decade of climate change action,” said Weber, “resisting the ongoing destruction of native forests across the globe is important to me.”


Sign on to the national Anti-Biomass Campaign platform!

Join in solidarity with over 50 organizations across 35 states by signing on to the national Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign platform and saying NO to industrial-scale biomass energy.

Come be a part of the growing movement exposing biomass incineration for what it really is--dirty energy. Only by uniting our voices can we put an end to the bio-mess.

Please contact traci [at] energyjustice [dot] net to sign your organization (or yourself) on to the platform. 
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