News | September 27, 2021

SELC, 95 other groups warn Biden about dangers of biomass

The existing biomass industry often cuts trees from southern forests, turns them into wood pellets, and then ships them overseas to be burned for power at utility scale. (SELC)

A coalition of nearly 100 conservation, social justice, and environmental groups sent a letter to President Biden and other federal leaders this month, warning them about the dangers of forest-derived biomass energy and showing how the industry can undermine the administration’s climate and environmental justice goals.

The existing biomass industry often cuts trees from southern forests, turns them into wood pellets, and then ships them overseas to be burned for power at utility scale. The industry now has its eyes on the U.S., with hopes that federal climate policies will create a new, domestic demand. But even though biomass companies tout it as clean energy, burning trees for fuel can emit more carbon than burning fossil fuels like coal.

Tell President Biden to cut carbon, not forests.

The letter, which was authored by the Southern Environmental Law Center and its partners, thanks the Biden administration for not categorizing biomass energy as ‘carbon neutral’ in its most recent budget and urges it to not create subsidies or incentives for the industry in the future. One of President Biden’s first moves in office was signing an executive order that aims to reduce the impacts of the climate crisis and pushes for a carbon-neutral power grid by 2035. Recklessly creating incentives for biomass companies would directly contradict those important benchmarks and worsen the impacts of climate change.

Furthermore, the biomass energy industry harms communities and forests across the South. Wood pellet mills release toxic pollutants and air particles that can harm air quality and are linked to serious health issues, like asthma and heart disease. These disruptive and dirty facilities are often built in low-wealth areas and communities of color. These areas often have a history of being overburdened with industrial pollution, and people living there deserve to have their voices heard in decisions that impact their health and quality of life.  

These mills can process tens of thousands of acres of forest a year, and cutting at that scale degrades ecosystems, hurts water quality for communities downstream, and destroys wildlife habitats – including habitats for threatened and endangered species.

The United Kingdom and European Union wrongly categorize biomass as ‘clean energy,’ and give the industry billions of dollars in subsidies annually. As the United States looks to transition to clean energy, it cannot make the same mistakes made overseas. Instead, US leaders need to develop a science-based approach to curbing this counter-productive industry. You can join these 95 groups by signing our petition and telling President Biden to cut carbon, not forests.