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.

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