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THE BIOMASS MONITOR is the world's leading publication tracking the health and environmental impacts of "biomass" energy.

Editors - Josh Schlossberg, Rachel Smolker, and Mike Ewall

A publication of Energy Justice Network, Biofuelwatch, Florida Environmental Justice Network, and Florida League of Conservation Voters.

Biomass Energy: More Harm Than Good

(May 2014 - Vol. 5, issue 2
)

 

Trees Are Not the Solution to Our Electricity Needs

- by Marvin Roberson, Michigan Sierra Club

There is a lot of concern in Michigan, especially the Upper Peninsula, about meeting future electrical needs. Many aging, polluting coal plants are soon to go offline, as they should. New coal plants are unlikely to replace them, and would be a poor choice even if feasible.

Power derived from cutting and burning standing timber cannot be any significant part of the solution to electrical needs because there simply aren’t enough trees in Michigan. To replace even a modest-size electric plant would require clear-cutting about 5 square miles of forest each year.

Some proponents suggest burning wood on the grounds that it is “carbon neutral,” causing no net increase of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and thus does not contribute to global warming. This is false. Every other use of wood (paper, furniture, even letting it fall over and rot) keeps more carbon out of the atmosphere than burning it. But that doesn’t matter.

Some claim that it will provide economic activity and badly needed jobs in rural areas. But the reality is every other use of harvested timber creates more jobs than burning it does. Trees are simply too expensive to use as fuel. But that doesn’t matter, either.

Some claim that using trees for power generation will help the forest by providing incentives for sustainable forest management. It won’t. Supplying biomass electricity plants with standing timber will only leave ever younger forests in Michigan, even though our current forests are wildly younger than naturally balanced forests. But that also doesn’t matter.

Why don’t these things matter, and what does?

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Public Lands, Dirty Energy

 - by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Grassroots advocates have done a bang up job alerting the American public to the disturbing health and environmental impacts of the extraction, transportation, and generation of dirty energy (fossil fuels, nuclear power, and biomass/trash incineration). Greenhouse gases, air pollution, and water contamination from energy sources requiring smokestacks or cooling towers have become common knowledge to all but the willfully ignorant.

However, to achieve a critical mass of action that will influence public policy and shift private investment away from energy sources that cause more harm than good, dirty energy opponents must find common threads to weave the fabric of the movement together.

One such thread consists of the forests, prairies, and deserts on public lands that belong to every U.S. citizen, and the threat dirty energy poses to it all.

Musical Chairs

All too often activists fighting one sector of the dirty energy industry will ignore — and occasionally advocate for — yet another type of dirty energy, invalidating many of the very concerns they profess, confusing the public, and harming the overall movement.

For instance, when anti-coal campaigners give a pass to biomass energy, the coal industry gets away with toasting trees in their coal-fired power plants. By endorsing (or allowing) biomass incineration, anti-coal activists contradict their own talking points about air pollution from coal, since trees or other forms of “biomass” actually emit higher levels of deadly particulate matter per unit of energy produced than the dirtiest fossil fuel. Ironically, a coal facility that starts burning biomass may result in the facility operating longer than it would have otherwise —  continuing to burn more coal along with trees.

The same dynamic is at work when biomass energy opponents insist that natural gas would be a better fuel to burn in a power plant. How can the public, policymakers, and the media take biomass busters’ worries about climate and watersheds seriously when they are in favor of an energy source that leaks vast amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas over twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide — and can be responsible for groundwater contamination through hydraulic fracturing?

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Climate Report Leaves Hopes Hanging on Fantasy Tech

- by Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch

This year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed for us, once again, that the planet is warming, even more and even faster than panel members thought. In fact, it is getting even warmer even faster than they thought the last time they admitted to having underestimated the problem. We humans are in deep trouble, and finding a way out of this mess - one that will ensure a decent future for us - is becoming increasingly difficult, if not nearly impossible. 

That difficult task is what the latest installment from IPCC, the Working Group 3 report on mitigation is intended to address. This past weekend, the "summary for policymakers" was released after the mad rush of government negotiations over the scientists' text took place in Berlin last week.

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From the Editor

- by Josh Schlossberg, Editor

A 2014 Harris Poll calculates that 61% of Americans are undecided about the risks vs. benefits of biomass energy, far more than with any other energy source. Oddly, this number has only increased from 2009. Why would Americans be less knowledgeable today about biomass impacts than they were five years ago?

While it's easy to blame industry propaganda for muddying the waters in regards to the health and environmental impacts of biomass energy, it's worth considering whether some of the burden falls on the shoulders of the biomass truth movement.

Many environmental organizations professing concerns about biomass energy also endorse various forms of incineration. Using terms like "sustainable" and "biomass done right," these entities send mixed messages to the public about biomass incineration. 

Much of the strength of an advocacy movement lies in its messaging. Anything less than across the board opposition to all forms of biomass burning only confuses the public, while lending credence to industry's message which--unlike its smokestack emissions--is crystal clear.


Tell EPA to Close Carbon Loophole

EPA's proposed limit on CO2 emissions from new power plants is full of loopholes that will cook the climate.

It applies only to planned conventional coal plants, of which there are none, but it allows new gas-fired power plants and biomass and waste incinerators, which are worse for the climate, but exempted! ...and there are hundreds of these climate-cooking, air- and water-polluting power plants and incinerators proposed.

Go to energyjustice.net/carbonrule
to help us urge EPA to close these loopholes.
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