SELC and partners criticize USDA support for biomass energy

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack voices support for biomass energy, which has led to harmful deforestation throughout the Southeast. (© SELC)

In a recent letter addressed to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, SELC and seven partner organizations challenged Secretary Vilsack’s support of biomass energy, which entails burning wood pellets for utility-scale electricity reduction. Recent increases in biomass facilities have led to harmful deforestation throughout the Southeast, yet Vilsack voiced support for the practice in a letter penned this spring to the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

In response to Vilsack’s letter, SELC and its partners offer compelling counter-arguments to his “factually inaccurate” claims that “misrepresent scientific studies” and overstate the benefits of biomass energy.

Vilsack and industry representatives assert there is a reduction in carbon emissions when shifting from fossil fuels to biomass. SELC and partners have found “wood-burning power plants emit more carbon pollution at the smokestack than fossil-fueled plants for each unit of energy generated. Even accounting for forest regrowth, the net additional carbon pollution from bioenergy persists in the atmosphere for years to decades.”

 As U.S. wood pellet exports are expected to increase in the years to come having nearly doubled between 2013 and 2015, SELC and partner organizations continue to champion proper carbon accounting and safeguards for our invaluable wetland forest ecosystems.

SELC joined the Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Air Task Force, Dogwood Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Partnership for Policy Integrity, Pivot Point, and Sierra Club in signing the letter.

Learn more about SELC’s bioenergy efforts in the South.

Vilsack’s letter incorrectly contends that burning wood pellets sourced from forests in the southern United States “provides significant greenhouse gas benefits to the U.K. due to reduced fossil fuel combustion,” and “delivers compelling carbon and societal benefits to the United States.” 

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