Biomass energy hurts our climate, communities, and forests 

What is biomass energy?

Biomass energy is the process of cutting down trees, turning them into wood pellets, and then burning them for power. The biomass industry claims this process is clean energy, but in reality, burning forests for electricity releases more climate-warming pollution than burning coal, all while degrading Southern forests and harming nearby communities.  

Biomass energy has an outsized impact on the South, which is home to dozens of wood pellet plants. These facilities turn trees into wood pellets, which are then shipped overseas to countries in Europe and Asia where they are burned for power.  

Now, as the U.S. looks to invest in cleaner energy sources, biomass energy companies are trying to wrongly take advantage of renewable power initiatives. SELC is committed to pushing back on this effort and ensuring tax dollars aren’t given to the dirty, dangerous, and destructive biomass energy industry.  

Tell the Biden administration: No tax breaks for dirty biomass energy.

Pellet plants pollute our communities  

Wood pellet facilities pump out huge amounts of harmful air pollution, including dust, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and particularly toxic or hazardous air pollutants like acrolein and methanol. The pollutants can cause asthma and respiratory illnesses in nearby communities. People living close by also are forced to deal with round-the-clock noise and increased truck traffic—all things that can negatively impact their health and quality of life. 

A Black woman with short hair in jeans and Black hoodie stands in the railroad tracks.
Dr. Treva Gear is leading the fight against dirty wood pellet plants in Adel, Georgia. (Credit: Julie Dermanksy)

“It’s just highly concerning. Every time I turn around there’s a wood pellet plant popping up over here,” says Dr. Treva Gear, an environmental justice advocate in Adel, Georgia and founder of Concerned Citizens of Cook County. “We tend to be targets, putting profit over people, saying you’re going to build economic progress on our backs while making us sick. It’s quite disturbing.”

Often times, these dangerous plants are sited near communities of color that are already overburdened with industrial pollution, continuing a long history of environmental injustice and racism in the South. More than 70 percent of Southern pellet plants are located in disadvantaged communities, according to federal data.  

Even worse, wood pellet facilities frequently violate their permits, making them even more dangerous to people living nearby. Enviva, which is the world’s largest wood pellet producer, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for violating environmental regulations at its facilities in the South.  

Biomass energy degrades Southern forests 

Wood pellet facilities continue to be built across the South in an attempt to keep up with international demand. Biomass energy companies claim that these pellet plants only use wood scraps, but there is clear evidence that these dirty facilities are turning whole trees into pellets. Combined, wood pellet plants in the South can turn more than 22 million tons of trees into wood pellets each year. 

Enviva’s Northampton plant. (Credit: Cornell Watson)


Logging to feed wood pellet facilities has a long-lasting and devastating impact on Southern forests. Our forests filter our air, purify our water, and create critical habitat for wildlife. They also provide a straightforward climate solution: forests pull dangerous, climate-warming gases from the atmosphere and can store them for decades, preventing them from worsening the climate crisis. Cutting these trees and burning them for power not only releases these gases back into the atmosphere, but it also takes away a key climate solution.  

The U.S. shouldn’t bankroll biomass companies 

The biomass energy industry is propped up by millions of dollars in subsidies from the United Kingdom and European Union. However, leaders in those countries are now realizing the biomass industry is not clean or sustainable and that it is actually making climate change worse. 

But as European leaders are rethinking their decisions to bankroll biomass companies, those same corporations are attempting to wrongly take advantage of the historic clean energy tax incentives recently created by Congress.  

Our tax dollars should not go to propping up an industry that hurts our communities, degrades our forests, and worsens the impacts of the climate crisis. We should be investing in real clean energy solutions – not a billion-dollar biomass boondoggle.

SELC Senior Attorney Heather Hillaker

Throwing tax dollars at this dirty industry will make it more difficult for companies to invest in real, proven clean energy solutions, like solar power, wind power, and battery storage. The U.S. Department of Treasury must protect our climate, communities, and forests by saying no to the biomass energy industry.