The proposed construction of a new generation of nuclear plants is just one aspect of the environmental threat posed by cap and trade or carbon taxes. In this report I will address yet another threat, biomass energy generation. Wood chips and wood pellets are exempt from European Union permit rules for carbon emissions, ostensibly because the chipped trees recently absorbed carbon from the atmosphere. The fact that the trees would have sequestered the carbon for centuries if left as living natural habitat and soil regenerative decomposing matter is conveniently overlooked.
Energy legislation in the U.S. has yet to be passed but current bills similarly promote the wholesale clearing of forests for combustion. Bloomberg describes it as energy sprawl:
More forests, deserts and grasslands in the U.S. will be used to produce energy under a proposal to cap greenhouse gases, an unintended consequence of efforts to fight global warming, according to a Nature Conservancy report.
A bill that boosts energy from wind turbines and biofuels will increase the amount of land needed for energy development as much as 48 percent, or almost 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) during the next 20 years, said Robert McDonald, a scientist with the Arlington, Virginia-based Nature Conservancy environmental group.
America’s publicly owned national forests will be made available for this new private industry if Obama appointee Tom Tidwell, Director of the U.S. Forest Service, gets his way. Biomass electric power generating plants can consume as much as one semi-trailer truck load of chipped forest every ten minutes. While harvesters may be required to re-plant the stripped landscapes they leave behind, it should be remembered that mono-crop plantation forests are not ecosystems and massive quantities of herbicides are needed to prevent weeds from overtaking the seedlings.
The health of surrounding communities is put in jeopardy as well. In a position paper called Biomass Position Statement, the American Lung Association of New England outlines the concerns: “Biomass emissions contain fine particulate matter, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. Like cigarettes, biomass emissions also contain chemicals that are known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxin.”
Extraordinary conjecture is utilized to rationalize the removal of our forests:
“… many of our Western forests are at risk of turning from a carbon sink to a carbon source,” Tom Tidwell, the head of the Forest Service, told a Senate subcommittee on Nov. 18 in a hearing on forest management and climate change.
“Projections indicate that while these forests continue to sequester more carbon in the short-term, in 30 to 50 years, disturbances such as fire and insects and disease could dramatically change the role of forests, thereby emitting more carbon than currently sequestering.”
So on the one hand, the scientific community considers forests to be carbon sinks, and, when convenient, forests are presented as a carbon threat by government officials.
Professors at Oregon State University are unconvinced, and suggest that clearing forests for biofuel could potentially release more carbon through transport and processing than if the material simply burned in the woods.
Portland’s Oregonian presents further ‘carbon sequestration’ rationalizations for logging our forests:
Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, said to maximize carbon capture, forests should be logged and turned into lumber, which would store the carbon in the form of two-by-fours and other long-lived wood products.
The Wyoming senator’s view is supported by analysis done by Elaine Oneil at the University of Washington’s forestry school.
Oneil said more carbon is released into the atmosphere by producing wood alternatives like concrete and steel, outweighing the carbon benefit of leaving forests standing. “The best thing to do, in terms of a carbon benefit, is to manage these forests on fairly rapid rotations,” Oneil said of Oregon’s wet, west-side forests… cut more often and plant fast-growing young forests.
All of this was anticipated by Jeffrey St. Clair last summer upon Tidwell’s appointment by President Obama. As Regional Forester for the Northern Rockies Tidwell had a 32 year track record as a “facilitator of forest destruction“. In the excerpt below St. Clair describes Tidwell’s priorities:
During his tenure in Montana, Tidwell specialized in the art of coercive collaboration, a social manipulation technique that involves getting environmental groups to endorse destructive projects they would normally litigate to stop. Yet, when copiously lubricated with the magic words “collaboration” or “climate change” most environmentalists can be enticed to swallow even the most ghastly of clearcuts in the most ecologically sensitive sites, such as the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana to the fast-dwindling ponderosa pine forests of Oregon’s Blue Mountains.
One of Tidwell’s highest priorities will, it seems, be to turn the national forests into industrial biomass farms, all in the name of green energy. Under this destructive scheme, forests, young and old alike, will be clearcut, not for lumber, but as fuel to be burned in biomass power generators. Already officials in the big timber states of Oregon and Washington are crowing that they will soon be able to become the “Saudi Arabia” of biomass production. Did they run this past Smokey the Bear?
Of course, Smokey, that global icon of wildfire suppression, and Tidwell will, no doubt, find common ground on another ecologically dubious project: thinning and post-fire salvage logging. We’ve reached the point where old-fashioned timber sales are a thing of the past. Now every logging operation will an ecological justification — specious though they all certainly turn out to be.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, one of the few green outfits to consistently stand up against Democratic Party-sponsored depredations on the environment, sued Tidwell at least 20 times during his time as regional forester in Missoula. There’s no record of Tidwell being sued even once by Boise-Cascade, Plum Creek Timber or the Noranda Gold Mining Company.
Yet by and large, the mainstream environmental movement has muzzled itself while the Obama administration stocks the Interior Department with corporate lawyers, extraction-minded bureaucrats and Clinton-era retreads.
Update – Copenhagen framework:
Johann Hari – The Independent – December 11, 2009
The first week of this summit is being dominated by the representatives of the rich countries trying to lace the deal with Enron-style accounting tricks that will give the impression of cuts, without the reality. It’s essential to understand these shenanigans this week, so we can understand the reality of the deal that will be announced with great razzmatazz next week …
A study by Stanford University found that most of the projects that are being funded as “cuts” either don’t exist, don’t work, or would have happened anyway. Yet this isn’t a small side-dish to the deal: it’s the main course …
Canadian, Swedish and Finnish logging companies have successfully pressured their governments into inserting an absurd clause into the rules. The new rules say you can, in the name of “sustainable forest management”, cut down almost all the trees – without losing credits. It’s Kafkaesque: a felled forest doesn’t increase your official emissions… even though it increases your actual emissions.