Wood pellet exports wreaking havoc on climate and forests

An aerial of one of the pellet manufacturing mills in North Carolina that ships its product across the Atlantic to a UK power company.

An investigation by The Washington Post today examines how the failure to accurately account for carbon emissions from woody biomass under European policies intended to cut carbon emissions and fight climate change could lead instead to more carbon emissions. A new independent analysis commissioned by SELC shows that cutting down hardwood trees in North Carolina and Virginia to make these wood pellets—as currently practiced by a pellet supplier for UK power company Drax—will produce 2 1/2 times more carbon pollution than continuing to burn coal for 40 years and more than three times the carbon pollution from coal over 100 years.

From The Washington Post article:

“Soaring demand for this woody fuel has led to the construction of more than two dozen pellet factories in the Southeast in the past decade, along with special port facilities in Virginia and Georgia where mountains of pellets are loaded onto Europe-bound freighters. European officials promote the trade as part of the fight against climate change. Burning “biomass” from trees instead of coal, they say, means fewer greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But that claim is increasingly coming under challenge. A number of independent experts and scientific studies—including a new analysis released Tuesday—are casting doubt on a key argument used to justify the cutting of Southern forests to make fuel. In reality, these scientists say, Europe’s appetite for wood pellets could lead to more carbon pollution for decades to come, while also putting some of the East Coast’s most productive wildlife habitats at risk.”


To see a map of existing and proposed pellet facilities in the Southeast, click here.

For SELC's press release on our pellet analysis, click here.


Listen to NPR's interview with The Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick.

More News

Southern Virginia highway proposal threatens recent progress

This week, SELC filed comments on behalf of itself and 16 organizations on the draft environmental impact statement for the wasteful and destruct...

Nashville mayor signs letter urging Congressional climate action

Nashville Mayor John Cooper is one of nearly 200 U.S. mayors advocating for a zero-carbon green economy that creates jobs and emphasizes equity b...

Thank you for fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline with us

When, on July 5th, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy abruptly cancelled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it didn't come out of nowhere. For years, SELC...

SELC seeks nominations for 2021 Reed Environmental Writing Award

We are now accepting submissions for the 2021 Phillip D. Reed Environmental Writing Awards. Nominations are welcome from anyone, including reader...

Lawsuit: Government illegally ‘cut corners’ to ram through NEPA changes

SELC is representing a group of 17 environmental organizations in a lawsuit filed today accusing the government of racing through an industry-fri...

Settlement provides relief for Duke Energy customers

The Southern Environmental Law Center recently reached a partial settlement with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and Duke Energ...

More Stories