California’s Forests Targeted As Feedstock for Global Wood Bioenergy Industry – Civil Society Responds With United Force to Oppose Massive Wood Pellet Export Project
The opening of the environmental review of the Golden State Natural Resources wood pellet manufacture and export scheme in California received a robust response from civil society environmental and environmental justice organizations from around California, around the United States and around the world.
In late November 2022 two entities affiliated with the Rural County Representatives of California announced the official launch of a massive wood pellet manufacture and export project.
Under the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) the Golden State Finance Authority published a Notice of Preparation (NOP) of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the officially titled Golden State Natural Resources (GSNR) Forest Resiliency Demonstration Project.
The GSNR project as described in the NOP proposes to build two new wood pellet facilities, one in Lassen County and the other in Tuolumne County, to manufacture 1,000,000 tons a year of wood pellets that would be exported to global markets through either (or both) of the Richmond and Stockton ports, in the SF Bay Area and Bay Delta region.
For feeding the wood pellet scheme GSNR proposes to source feedstock from an extensive one hundred mile radius around each of the new wood pellet facilities, putting both private and public lands in the prospective holdings that would be logged for wood pellet manufacture.
Golden State Natural Resources is a not-for-profit corporation that is something of a sister organization to the Golden State Finance Authority, which is a ‘joint powers authority’ that is acting as lead agency for the CEQA review of the GSNR project. Both GSNR and GSF are considered ‘affiliated entities’ of the Rural County Representatives of California organization.
With the release of the NOP a public comment period on scoping for the environmental review was opened; the comment period closed on December 21, 2022, just prior to the holiday.
The intertwined nature of the GSFA and GSNR entities raises serious governance questions, including to what degree the Golden State Finance Authority, responsible for the environmental review of the GSNR project, has a financial stake in the GSNR wood pellet project, and how that might affect their ability to provide an impartial review of the GSNR scheme.
The GSNR wood pellet export proposal was met with strong opposition from civil society organizations, including partners in the international Cut Carbon Not Forests coalition such as Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Dogwood Alliance, Biofuelwatch, and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
A comment letter lead by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Partnership For Policy Integrity (PFPI) received a whole host of diverse organizations joining in support, such as John Muir Project, Sunflower Alliance, the Central California Environmental Justice Network, the Environmental Protection Information Center, Conservation Congress, and many others, totaling some 30 local, statewide and national organizations that joined in voicing serious concerns about the public health, climate and environmental implications of the wood pellet manufacture and export proposal.
As well as listing numerous life cycle impacts from the project that any environmental review must analyze in depth, the letters also specified the need to assess the greenhouse gas emissions and air quality impacts from wood pellet manufacture, the impacts from truck and train transportation for project operations, and the hydrology, water and biological resource impacts from logging for feedstock supply.
Importantly, the sign on letter was unequivocal in expressing opposition to “promoting this dirty, unjust industry in a climate-forward state like California.’
Now that the scoping period for the GSNR wood pellet export project has closed Biofuelwatch will work with partners to draw attention to not only to this immediate threat to California’s forests and communities, but to put these dynamics in context with the risks and threats embedded in the politically convenient trend promoting the conversion of coal plants to burning biomass, such as is happening in Europe, Asia, and even Latin America, as the proposed conversion of a 320 MW Engie coal plant in Mejillones, Antofagasta, Chile exemplifies.
See the NRDC et al GSNR scoping comment letter: GSNR Forest Resiliency NOP Comments.
See the CBD and PFPI et al GSNR sign on letter: 22 12 19 CBD, PFPI, Biofuelwatch et al scoping comments on GSNR wood pellet project final.
For more background listen to this recent episode of Terra Verde on KPFA, featuring guests from PFPI: Global Wood Bioenergy Sector Eyes California’s Forests