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Updates about Biofuelwatch’s work in the US
Biofuelwatch US has been working together with allies to develop a network of activists across the country opposing biomass incineration. The network has finalized a “platform” position, and is working to build support and membership. If interested, read and sign on to the platform, available here.
Meanwhile, we continue to work to oppose biomass incinerators around the country, with a special focus on the New England region, where Rachel Smolker and Josh Schlossberg reside. A proposed incinerator in Pownal, Vermont was successfully opposed by local citizens, but the same developer (Beaver Wood’s Tom Emero) is still pushing a second proposal in Fairfield Vermont where there is currently no opposition (Josh and Rachel did a presentation to citizens, but they largely remained eager for promised jobs…). There are several other new incinerator proposals in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, with active community opposition in some, but not others. The revision of biomass regulations in Massachusetts is likely to be resolved soon, and we are hopeful that it will set precedent for the region. Josh has been very active in reaching out to other environmental groups, especially in Vermont. The tide of support is clearly shifting somewhat with many voices now expressing doubts about the wisdom of commercial and industrial scale bioenergy. Rachel had a letter to the editor published in the Burlington Vermont “Seven Days” newspaper, where an article covered “mixed opinion” on biomass in the state. Josh has also published several letter and articles in regional papers.
Biofuelwatch won a grant from Fund For Wild Nature to undertake an assessment of forest impacts from harvests for the Burlington Vermont McNeil biomass electricity generation facility. Working with Energy Justice Network, the goal is to map harvests and impacts. The project was announced in a press release here.
We continue to work to build a biomass opposition “voice” in Washington DC, where legislators are barraged by pro-biomass lobbyists. The “super committee” charged with hammering out budget cuts is one target. Absurdly, subsidies for solar energy are being considered for slashing. Why not cut subsidies for dirty biomass energy instead?
Meanwhile, Rachel traveled to DC in early November to meet with large NGO groups to brief them on biochar issues prior to traveling to Durban for the UNFCCC COP17. We submitted text on bioenergy for the “zero draft” document for RioPlus20.
In the U.S., the tea party Congress is working hard to dismantle EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule, undermining environmental regulations under the guise of “protecting jobs and the economy”. Meanwhile we continue to pressure EPA to properly account for carbon emissions from biomass combustion (currently exempted) and to improve and enforce air emissions standards in general.
Biofuelwatch U.S. monitors developments in bioenergy, including burning of biomass for electricity, biochar, biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) and the growing “bioeconomy”.
Our work has recently been focused largely on the rapidly expanding practice of generating “renewable” electricity by burning – everything from wood, to agricultural residues, animal manure, municipal waste and more. In the US, new incinerators are under construction across the country, and many facilities that have traditionally burned coal, are switching to burn biomass, or a mix of coal and biomass. Because burning provides reliable “baseload” electricity, it is considered advantageous over wind and solar in many cases and competes directly with “non combustion” technologies for subsidies and supports. These subsidies are offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (USDA) and many other state and federal incentives intended for renewable energy. The industry, and many “green groups” claim that biomass burning electricity is “carbon neutral”, but this is clearly false. Burning wood releases more CO2 per unit of electricity produced than does burning coal. In theory, trees may regrow and re-sequester the carbon emitted when they were burned, but this regrowth can take several decades or longer and forests, once degraded or destroyed, may never recover and re-absorb the carbon lost to the atmosphere. Meanwhile additions of CO2 to the atmosphere will be even greater than under a coal-burning scenario (clearly, neither are acceptable options – conservation and efficiency are preferable). The impacts of harvesting massive quantities of wood are alarming. Around 13,000 tons of wood are required to generate one megawatt of electricity per year. For perspective, consider that Ohio is permitting upwards of 2400 MW of biomass electricity – requiring near 27 million tons of wood. Currently the state harvests about 2 million tons per year. Similar escalation of cutting to provide such quantities of wood is likely all over the country. Europe is similarly expanding biomass burning, and importing vast quantities of wood from the US, Africa, Asia and beyond. The Biomass industry claims that they will use “waste and residue” but these claims are unrealistic and blatantly false. All of this wood – including whole trees – has to be harvested, resulting in disturbance to forests and forest soils, and trucked to facilities, resulting in far more emissions.
Communities are battling against biomass incinerators, in part because of the serious human health impacts. Burning biomass releases very large amounts of particulates as well as nitrogen oxides and other toxins depending on the type of biomass. Health Associations around the US oppose biomass electricity.
Biofuelwatch works in close collaboration with Energy Justice Network and others to provide support to communities, engage in education and outreach, and facilitate networking among activists. We are working with allies across the US to form a national level coalition in opposition to biomass incinerators, demanding an end to federal subsidies, based on the myth that biomass burning is “clean, green and carbon neutral.”
New England Regional Campaign:
Biofuelwatch has launched a New England regional biomass campaign, with the assistance of activist Josh Schlossberg and fiscal sponsorship of the Global Justice Ecology Project. New England already has the highest asthma rates in the country, and yet there are MANY existing and proposed incinerators in the region. In Massachussets, citizens were outraged by proposals for several new biomass incinerators, organized a ballot initiative and demanded that the State conduct a sustainability study – The Manomet Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study. The results of the study indicated that after 40 years, the net GHG emissions from biomass burned for electricity are still worse than coal, even when considering forest regrowth, and that biomass emissions are worse than natural gas even after 90 years. It also found that biomass, burned in small scale heating applications or in combined heat and power (CHP) industrial applications is worse than natural gas, but better than burning oil. In response to this, the state is revising biomass standards for its Renewable Portfolio Standard. Other states in the region and beyond should follow suit!
Ultimately, US bioenergy policies exert a “domino effect” internationally, on virtually all aspects of life – impacting food prices, water resources, human rights, biodiversity and climate change. Increased demand for plant material – energy crops, wood etc. is forcing the expansion of industrial monocultures and contributing to the land grabs that are occurring worldwide. New technologies such as crops and trees genetically engineered for characteristics that make them amenable to being used as fuel are being developed and promoted. Arborgen, based in US with operations in Brazil is developing fast growing cold tolerant GE eucalyptus trees specifically to serve the bioenergy demand. The field testing of these trees in the southern US was recently permitted. Synthetic biology – the creation of microbes with entirely synthesized genomes is another dangerous technology being advanced by the push for bioenergy, biochemicals, bioproducts and other sectors of the “bioeconomy”. Synthetic microbes – capable of producing enzymes that can access and convert the sugars in plant cellulose are being developed and promoted in spite of the risks and lack of regulation.