Strip, Chip and Ship: Exporting Our Forests [The Biomass Monitor - December 2013]
THE BIOMASS MONITOR is the world's leading publication tracking the health and environmental impacts of "biomass" energy.

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

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

Strip, Chip and Ship: Exporting Our Forests

(December 2013 - Vol. 4, issue 12


West Coast Wood Exports Undercut Economy and Environment

- by Samantha Chirillo, Energy Justice Network

Since the European Union (EU) countries set high carbon reduction standards and counted biomass energy as carbon neutral and renewable, biomass exports from the southeastern U.S. have skyrocketed.

Now, as Japan looks for an alternative to nuclear energy, as U.S. corporations get tax breaks to relocate facilities to the countries of least regulation, and as trans-Pacific trade agreements give these corporations power over governments, west coast ports are preparing for log and biomass export expansion. In 2013 alone, log and chip exports from the northwestern U.S. already doubled, according to public interest forester Roy Keene. 

Oregon may be the biggest loser, or at least the state with the most to lose, with a third of its total annual harvest volume exported as logs and chips, as Keene states in his article "Outsourcing Forests Costs Thousands of Jobs." Oregon does not have stringent forest practice laws or headwater protections at the state level, like Washington and California do. Current bills to log the Bureau of Land Management checkerboard public forest lands in Oregon fail to account for the liquidation of Oregon's intermingled private forest lands... [READ MORE]

Biomass Thermal: The Logs that Break the Forest's Back

 - by Josh Schlossberg

A sector of the biomass incineration industry claims to be turning over a new “green” leaf by building smaller, slightly more energy-efficient facilities focused on heating rather than electricity. Meanwhile, behind the smokescreen, biomass thermal advocates are supporting much of the same forest-raiding, climate-busting, and lung-searing policies as the biomass power pushers.

If successful, the biomass thermal industry’s legislative agenda won’t result in smaller, higher-efficiency biomass heating facilities replacing larger, lower-efficiency biomass power facilities  —  it will simply spur the construction of both.

The biomass energy industry continues to suffer one black eye after another as the human health, environmental, and economic impacts of smokestack energy become clear to the public, elected officials, and the media. Once the darling of “renewable” energy advocates, the reputation of industrial-scale biomass incineration has gone down the tubes.  

As biomass energy’s dark side emerges  — thanks, in no small part, to the grassroots anti-biomass movement — many former biomass boosters are changing course…or are they? Instead of abandoning “alternative” energy’s low-hanging fruit completely, many industry and environmental groups are steering the discussion away from the inevitable health, climate, and ecosystem impacts of biomass incineration, towards “efficiency” and scale... [READ MORE]

Outsourcing Forests Costs Thousands of Jobs

- by Roy Keene

Burning trees for power looms as a further threat to our already beset forests. The Japanese government now subsidizes mills to burn wood chips as “clean” power. Sound familiar? Reflecting Japan’s growing aversion to nuclear power, the country’s wood chip demands are expanding.

A newspaper article by Takeshi Owada, “Paper makers seeing profit potential in biomass power industry,” notes that “As increased numbers of manufacturers enter the biomass power generation industry, they will face shortages. Chips from their own forests will be insufficient to ensure stable power generation, requiring purchasing supplies from abroad.”

A country that once exported mature timber from Oregon now wants chips from teenage trees — trees logged off federal lands as well as private... [READ MORE]


Biomass: The Chain of Destruction

- by Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch

Our latest report, Biomass: The Chain of Destruction, just launched at a public meeting in London, includes the first detailed case study of a land-grab linked directly to Europe's new demand for wood-based bioenergy.

That case study, which was researched and written by Ivonete Gonçalves de Souza (Cepedes) and Winfridus Overbeek (World Rainforest Movement), focusses on the Baixo Parnaíba region of the Brazilian state of Maranhão.

Traditional communities in that region have a long history of living in harmony with the highly biodiverse wooded Cerrado savannah. But for at least the last two decades they have been struggling to defend their lands, first from landowners planting soya and more recently from pulp and paper companies' eucalyptus monocultures... [READ MORE]

Forests Could Face Threat from Biomass Power "Gold Rush"

- by Jamie Doward, The Observer

Britain's new generation of biomass power stations will have to source millions of tonnes of wood from thousands of miles away if they are to operate near to their full capacity, raising questions about the claims made for the sustainability of the new technology.

Ministers believe biomass technology could provide as much as 11% of the UK's energy by 2020, something that would help it meet its carbon commitments. The Environment Agency estimates that biomass-fired electricity generation, most of which involves burning wood pellets, can cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% compared with coal-fired power stations. Eight biomass power stations, including one in a unit in the giant Drax power station, are operating in the UK and a further seven are in the pipeline. None operates near capacity... [READ MORE]

Typhoons, Climate Negotiations and a Reality Check

- by Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch

The latest round of climate negotiations are opening just as we are hearing the stories and viewing images on the news coverage of the devastation wrought on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan (aka Yolanda).  Coincidentally, the last round of climate negotiations, COP 18 in Doha were similarly punctuated by a devastating typhoon, Bhopa (aka Pablo) that also struck the Philippines.  

Climate scientists long warned we would experience more and more extreme weather events. Well, here it is, just as predicted. In the Philippines, thousands of lives have been lost. Bodies are floating in the streets -- mothers, fathers, babies, children. Not just meaningless statistics from some far away unreal place, but real people: loved ones and friends whose lives have been smashed and obliterated, while the world around them -- trees, land, coastlines, and the creatures that inhabit that part of the world -- have been flattened, blown away and drowned... [READ MORE]

From the Editor

by Rachel Smolker, Managing Editor

The December issue of The Biomass Monitor focuses on the growing international trade in wood pellets and chips. The Southeastern USA and British Columbia, for example, are currently exporting shiploads of pellets to Europe, mostly to burn in coal stations. Co-firing wood with coal allows those facilities to meet regulations on sulphur emissions, as well as profit from subsidies for “renewable energy.” Pellet manufacturers and energy companies are investing now in port access for shipping.

Shipping wood around the globe is not new, of course, as there has long been international trade for timber and pulp. As Roy Keene’s article details, the current trend, with demand for cheap lumber, chips for paper production AND pellets for wood bioenergy, is fast gobbling forests in Oregon and elsewhere; a sort of “perfect storm” of demand.

In the news recently was the release of a satellite mapping project that revealed 2.3 million square miles of forest lost between 2000 and 2012. Some forest has been “gained” but that is secondary growth at best, and more often industrial tree plantations: hardly forests. Our forests are disappearing: the very forests that serve as the lungs of the planet, house most biodiversity on earth, and regulate our hydrology. The foolishness of creating vast new demand for wood “bioenergy” cannot be overstated.

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