Forests Not Fuel - Statement to the Press, Mar 25, 2015

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Good morning, I am Haywood Martin, Chair of Sierra Club in Louisiana. I am here because I am concerned about destruction of native forests in the southeast and in Louisiana.

Misdirected renewable energy policies both here in the US and in Europe treat biomass, including the burning of trees, as renewable energy just like solar and wind. With billions of dollars of government subsidies available, major European utility companies have been converting coal burning power plants to wood, even though there is mounting scientific evidence that burning trees for electricity releases more carbon into the atmosphere than burning coal. In a rush to find much-needed alternatives to fossil fuels, any evidence that burning wood might not make economic sense and that it is destroying forests, has been largely ignored.

Europe is currently at the forefront of this rush to burn. They are running power plants previously fueled with coal by importing large quantities of wood from the US. This has led to an explosion of new facilities here in the South that are turning our forests into wood pellets and exporting them across the Atlantic. Currently, the Southern US is the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets. Wood pellet exports to Europe from the South are in the millions of tons per year and are increasing as new facilities come on line. We’ve seen aggressive logging in native forests in NC and Virginia, and we want to make sure this doesn’t happen here in Louisiana.

It actually costs more to burn US forests than to use fossil fuels but the economic model is based on huge subsidies to burn so called “renewable energy” from forests. The practice may not be sustainable here—companies are planning to produce 1.2 billion tons of pellets per year in Louisiana. They say they will do it from waste wood but there is not enough waste wood in all of the South to meet this demand.

A Wall Street Journal investigation (1) into the biomass industry in the Southeast describes how companies sourced trees from some of the most environmentally sensitive natural forests in the Southeast, including clear-cutting wood from wetland forests, some with trees more than 100 years old. While the industry typically argues that these types of destructive practices are isolated, such incidents tell us that existing forestry management certifications are failing to protect important ecosystems, associated species and water resources.

The Southern US has the highest concentration of endangered species in the nation. Many of these species are forest dependent. As we continue to expand forestry operations like clear-cutting and conversion of natural forests to pine plantations we lose more habitats and therefore more species.

Additionally, nearly 43 million acres of our forests have already been converted to sterile pine plantations (U.S. Forest Service, 2008) and countless pounds of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides have been dumped on these plantations harming human health, wildlife and water quality.

At a time when we need to be quickly cutting carbon emissions and moving our energy sector forward towards energy efficiency and real clean energy technologies like wind and solar, burning trees to generate electricity takes us backwards, increasing carbon pollution compared to fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. The massive needs of a subsidized biomass fuel for energy market will cause greatly increased logging in the U.S. Southeast, threatening some of the most biologically-diverse forests in the world.

That’s why Dogwood Alliance, Sierra Club and other concerned organizations are putting these companies on notice with a clear and simple message: Our Forests Aren’t Fuel. We’re calling on the biggest players in the industry to adopt meaningful long-term policies that verify that their projects reduce near-term carbon emissions and protect forest ecosystems. And we are calling on the European countries to re-evaluate the carbon economics and the dollar economics of burning our southeastern forests for energy production.

Thank you

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