EPA Emissions Decision Puts Climate and Human Health at Risk

Dogwood Alliance, an organization focused on protecting Southern forests, called on utility companies, investors, and federal, state, and local governments to halt the further expansion of large-scale bioenergy projects, including burning whole trees in existing coal-fired power plants while the EPA studies the environmental impacts. This comes in response to the agency's recently announced decision to allow biomass-burning facilities to avoid regulation of carbon emissions for the next three years.

Citing the absence of CO2 and forest management regulation as well as insufficient smokestack pollution controls, the organization is concerned that the government has just opened the floodgates on yet another environmentally destructive, unregulated, and unaccountable industry all in the name of clean, renewable energy.

“While there is a real and urgent need to reduce our dependence on coal and foreign oil, burning forests is not the answer,” said Danna Smith, Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance. “Allowing this industry to run rampant while mounting science is documenting that industrial-scale burning of bioenergy for electricity will accelerate carbon emissions, threaten human health, and destroy forests, is a major mistake.”

Biomass-burning facilities, which burn organic matter such as wood to produce energy, are increasing throughout the United States. For the next three years while the EPA studies the issue, biomass facilities will be spared from new federal laws that regulate the release of harmful greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. These facilities will not be required to attain permits before beginning construction and will not need Title V operating permits.

Forests remove and store carbon – a critical service that is compromised when they are degraded by industrial logging. Carbon is not only released when forests are logged but also when the trees are burned to produce energy. 

Worldwide, forest loss and degradation already account for 20% of global carbon emissions. Just last week, a study published in Science concluded that that the protection of forests as carbon sinks should be even more at the forefront as a strategy to protect our climate. Beyond carbon, forests protect water resources, prevent flooding, protect wildlife and support the well-being of our rural communities. 

“At a time when forest loss and degradation already account for a significant share of global carbon emissions, we need to reduce rather than accelerate industrial logging,” says Smith. “We must focus on protecting our forests as carbon sinks while devoting resources to energy efficiency as well as clean sources of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.”

The Southern U.S. is already the world’s largest wood and paper producing region. Dogwood Alliance believes increased demand from large-scale bioenergy facilities could push the region’s forests “over the edge”. Currently there are no laws in place to ensure sustainable forestry practices. Destructive practices, such as large-scale clearcutting and the conversion of natural forests to plantations, are widespread. 

According to a recent report published by the US Forest Service, Southern Forest Futures Project report, increased demand on forests in the South from the bioenergy industry could trigger a near doubling of industrial logging as well as the further replacement of millions of acres of natural forests with industrial pine plantations, causing significant and wide-spread negative impacts to water resources, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity.

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