New Draft EU Energy Policies Take Small Step to Limit Burning of Trees for Electricity, but Multiple Loopholes Threaten to Render it Meaningless

Following Multi-Year Campaign, Environmental Groups See Potential in Fight to Protect Forests and Communities from Dirty Biomass; But it is Now the Responsibility of the EU Parliament and Council to Strengthen the Commission’s Proposal to Ensure Renewable Energy Targets Do Not Drive Forest Destruction and More Climate Pollution.

WASHINGTON – Responding to public pressure and signaling progress in a years-long environmental campaign, the European Commission (EC) today took a step toward curtailing the dangerous, continent-wide expansion of burning trees to generate electricity by proposing to remove misguided subsidies for large-scale biomass from its renewable energy policies. With an increasing body of scientific evidence making clear that burning trees for power increases carbon emissions, this signal from the EU should act as a wake-up call to the wood pellet industry.

For months, public pressure has been mounting on the European Commission to act. In October, environmental groups in Europe and the U.S. mobilized activists from at least 29 countries and five continents to deliver social media messages reaching 1.5 million people. Directed at two EU commissioners who oversee renewable energy policy, the groundswell of citizen concern underscored that burning trees for energy pollutes our climate and our air, destroys our forests, and harms our health.

The greatest potential improvement to EU energy policy came as the Commission proposed to end support for new, stand-alone biomass burning facilities. Going forward, new facilities that wish to burn biomass will need to be much more efficient and generate both heat and power. Unfortunately, the targets for efficiency are currently ambiguous and will need to be clarified during the next phase of debate in the European parliament. Without such an efficiency threshold, the EC risks creating another dangerous loophole that would allow utilities to burn more polluting biomass.

In addition, the EU Commission failed to fully address several fundamental problems in its draft policy. The proposal fails to adequately deal with the existing biomass industry in Europe that continues to emit millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere and puts valuable forests at risk in the Southern U.S. and around the globe. Further, it does nothing to ensure that new biomass-burning facilities actually reduce their carbon pollution. Instead, it puts in place only weak sustainable wood-sourcing standards, which lack any adequate carbon accounting mechanism—a critical flaw that must be corrected.

Environmental organizations will focus their attention on stronger limits to wood sourcing and increased accountability on carbon emissions as the process moves forward to debate in European Parliament. It is now up to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to introduce amendments that will ensure renewable energy targets will not result in even greater carbon emissions.

Organizations made the following statements:

“Taking subsidies off the table for new electricity-only power stations that burn biomass represents important but modest progress for our climate and for the air we all breathe,” said Debbie Hammel, director of NRDC’s Land Markets Initiative. “Burning trees to generate electricity is dirtier than coal, destroys forests, and threatens our health. To ensure that EU renewables policies deliver on their promise, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic must understand that sustainability standards for wood fuel alone are not sufficient to address the biomass threat. Bioenergy policies must close the carbon accounting loophole and place an overall cap on the use of biomass for energy at levels that can be sustainably supplied.”

“The new EU policy draft is an important step forward for the native Southern forests and rural communities that are suffering at the hands of the dirty biomass industry,” said Adam Macon, Campaign Director at Dogwood Alliance. “While we will celebrate this progress, this policy needs to be further strengthened and we will not stop fighting for our forests and communities in the region that still face the dangers of government and corporate resource extraction for wood pellets at the expense of their health and quality of life.”

“The draft policy proposes to eliminate future subsidies for burning wood to produce solely electricity, but includes several large loopholes in that proposal,”said David Carr, General Counsel, Southern Environmental Law Center. “If the final policy adopted clearly bans subsidies for burning wood in new electric power plants or co-firing in existing coal plants, this would be an important step in controlling the expansion of the worst effects of burning trees for energy. Unfortunately, it would do nothing to limit the carbon emissions from existing biomass power plants.”

For more information on how harmful EU biomass policies impact the world, please see the following resources:

Letters to the EU Commission from Dogwood Alliance, NRDC and SELC outlining needed changes in EU Bioenergy policy can be found here and here.

Organized by the Dogwood Alliance, dozens of local US elected officials sent this letter to EU commissioners. The letter voices concerns over negative impacts EU bioenergy policies and associated subsidies have on US communities.

The 19 October “International Day of Action on Bioenergy” was timed to influence the new EU bioenergy policy. Using the #EUbioenergy and #SOSforests hashtags, millions of messages were directed at European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.


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