March 2015
Volume 6, Issue 3

What Does It Mean To Be Green?
(March 2015)

Exploiting Private Forests for Bioenergy

- by Roy Keene

The debate over a single wood powered electrical generator in Eugene has been myopically focused on just one project and one proposed fuel source. Supporters for Seneca Sawmill Co.'s proposed power plant have yet to publicly mention that slash could be replaced with chipped trees as fuel prices rise, or that this plant could be the first of many as wood-generated electricity becomes more profitable.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "The Eugene-Springfield area is one of the largest wood products processing areas in the world." This area is also the epicenter for a huge volume of industrially owned forest biomass.


With industry's infrastructure in place and hundreds of thousands of acres in tree plantations, our area is ideally positioned for wood-fueled electrical power generating. Once Seneca has perfected their generating process and shown profits by selling electricity back to the grid, similar proposals and projects can be expected--especially as more federal "green" energy subsidies become available.

In the short term, logging and chipping are dependent on fossil fuels, so cheaper oil means more profit made by chipping. Over the long term, biomass price will be more competitive as oil price diminishes. When logging slash alone can not meet increasing demands for wood biomass, chipping trees will become more profitable than growing timber.

Chips are already nearly as valuable as an equal volume of wood processed into boards. Plantations with trees too small to saw may contain several thousand cubic feet per acre of biomass. As it becomes financially more efficient to convert wood into electricity, the integrity of Lane County's forests and tree farms will be at greater risk.

The arrival of wood-fueled power generators heralds a final stage in industrial forest conversion--a conversion that reduces old growth forests to saw timber stands, then to poles, and finally to chip wood. As tree size shrinks, so does the work force and the communities that depend on wood products employment.


Green Crony Capitalism: Oregon's Governor and the Grifter(s)

- by Michael Donnelly, Salem News

Oregon's Governor-for-Life John Kitzhaber, 68, resigned Friday the 13th. His resignation letter was the usual lawyerly-parsed, blame-the-media/take no responsibility sham we're used to seeing. He had been governor from 1995-2003 and again from 2011 until now. 

The basic allegations which forced the rest of the state's Democratic Party elite--Senate President, House Speaker, State Treasurer and others to join the state's largest newspaper and call for his resignation--involve influence-peddling by his ten-year girlfriend/fiancee Cylvia Hayes.

Seneca logs II.JPG

Hayes, 48--a woman with a grifter's history--pretty much publicly advertised that her clout with the governor was for sale and cashed in for over $200,000 at the same time she was his advisor on energy policy, working out of the governor's mansion and using government employees as subordinates. 

The most damning allegation? She took over $118,000 from a sham non-profit that went defunct without ever filing a report with the IRS. She herself never reported her payments. The entire purpose was to shake loose tens of millions of state subsidies for "green" energy projects.

The Apollo Alliance and allies have also been traveling around pushing biomass projects, greenwashing the forest habitat, species and huge carbon cost of burning trees (let alone trash which they also consider "renewable")--a process 1.5 times dirtier than burning coal--for small amounts of electrons.
There's a reason for it. After all the tens of millions in wind farm subsidies and other renewables, they make up about 4.7% of the power in Oregon's grid--power that is useless on its own without coal-powered, steam-generated baseload energy regulating the grid from the Boardman Coal Plant, Oregon's largest carbon polluter.
That 4.7% barely keeps up with the increases in consumption. And, now the Boardman Plant is being forced to go off coal and--you guessed it--switch over to biomass. Burning our forests is the only way they can possibly meet the 25% target.


What a Biomass Battle Tells Us About Environmental Justice

- by Brentin Mock, Grist

It's well-established that the Environmental Protection Agency has been quite flaccid when it comes to enforcing civil rights issues. The online news outlet E&E recently took the time to remind us how bad it is last week, reporting from Flint, Mich., where environmental justice complaints about a biomass energy plant built in a low-income, black community have gone ignored since the early 1990s.

"In that corner of Flint, there is just a lot of polluting stuff that's either in Genesee Township or the northeast side of Flint, and nothing has ever really been done about that," Rev. Phil Schmitter told E&E reporter Robin Bravender. "The plant is about a mile from an elementary school and a low-income housing complex."


Back in 1994, environmental justice activists in Flint asked the EPA to block construction of the biomass plant, arguing that low-income African Americans have already suffered enough from the concentration of pollution and poverty in the northeastern quarter. The EPA noted the request, and it's on the agency's list of civil rights complaints, filed July 1, 1994 as one of the few cases accepted for investigation. But here we are, over 20 years later, and the situation hasn't been resolved. The plant has been up and running since 1995, burning wood to energy to its merry delight.

Now, the EPA's lack of action on civil rights enforcement deserves scrutiny, even as the agency has taken steps like creating Plan EJ 2014, a detailed proposal for correcting this problem. And certainly there are cumulative impact questions that need to be answered in Flint. But as much as anything, the story of the Flint biomass plant reveals just how complicated these issues can be.


The Biomass Monitor is the nation's leading publication covering the health and environmental impacts of bioenergy. We are accepting submissions at thebiomassmonitor AT

Photo: Seneca Sawmill logs, Samantha Chirillo


Josh Schlossberg, Mike Ewall, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, The Biomass Monitor

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- by Josh Schlossberg, Editor

If you believe in climate change, worry about air pollution, and care about the destruction of natural ecosystems, you probably support a transition from dirty to clean energy, coupled with cuts in energy consumption.

Close your eyes for a second and picture what "green" energy means to you. Whirring wind turbines cresting a hilltop? Fields of solar panels glinting in the sun? Smokestacks pumping out particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and carbon dioxide?

Probably not the last one, right? Well, it'd be a more accurate image, since combustion-based bioenergy--electricity, heating, and transportation fuels--is the #1 source of "renewable" energy in the U.S.

All energy generation has health and environmental impacts, though some technologies are more damaging than others. The same negatives associated with fossil fuels and nuclear power--non-stop, ecosystem-degrading resource extraction and harmful pollution--are present with bioenergy. While the construction of solar panels and wind turbines requires energy and involves rare minerals and often toxic processes, once a panel or turbine is up and running, there is no finite resource to exhaust and no air emissions to inhale.

If we're to avoid the worst of climate change and protect our remaining forests and watersheds, is it possible to also continue on our path of infinite extraction of finite resources?

Here's the kicker: Even if bioenergy didn't consume forests, exacerbate runaway climate change, and pollute the air, if we burned every tree in the world, we'd only provide a fraction of our energy.

At best, bioenergy is a distraction from the serious choices we need to make about energy use, the most crucial of which involves powering down our energy consumption through localizing our economies and simplifying our lifestyles.



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Biomass Truth Conference Call

Roy Keene, public interest forester and director of Our Forests, has forty years of experience in the woods pushing for the protection of public forests and the reform of private land logging practices.

Call in on Thurs, March. 19 at 5pm PT / 8 ET to learn about the various subsidies for "biomass" energy logging--including transportation, firefighting, weak private forest practice laws, tax exemptions, and public utilities buying biomass power above market rate

Email thebiomassmonitor AT for call-in number.