In 2007, the European Union set an ambitious goal
to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 20 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. That, in effect, required power plants across the continent to quickly find new ways to make energy. Some turned to wind and solar. But for coal-fired power plants it was much cheaper to convert their facilities to burn wood. The conundrum for those companies is that much of western Europe doesn’t have sufficiently large forests left to meet the demand, and the remaining woodland is heavily regulated. So corporations turned to the Southeastern U.S., where wood is plentiful, and regulations about what can be done on private land are lax.
“It’s ludicrous that we’re chopping down our forests and shipping them to Europe to help meet their energy goals,” said Scot Quaranda, the campaign director for the Dogwood Alliance, a forest watchdog group. “But in the South, on private land, you can basically get away with anything.”
Quaranda said his group has documented several cases of forests clear-cut for biomass fuel. A Wall Street Journal
report also found clear-cutting in North Carolina.
Seth Ginther, a lawyer with the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, insists the pellet industry is not responsible for environmental damage. But he acknowledged that private landowners are free to do what they wish, including cut down whole trees on their land.
And in the South, where nearly 90 percent of land is privately owned, there is no law on the books requiring landowners to grow those trees back.
Dozens of biomass facilities have been built in the South. There are currently two in Louisiana, with eight more planned, according to Quaranda.