Since 2013, media and local groups have investigated and documented the devastating impact that European demand for wood pellets is having on forest ecosystems in the Southeastern United States. These investigations provide critical insight into the supply chains for pellets exported by Enviva, the largest wood pellet manufacturer in the United States and key supplier to top European utilities, such as Drax Power in the United Kingdom and Dong Energy in Denmark.
In a new investigation (February, 2017), local groups found that mature hardwood forests were cut down to source Enviva’s new wood pellet mill in Sampson County, North Carolina. The images from this investigation, which follows similar investigations in 2014, 2015, and 2016, again expose the unsustainable logging practices being used to provide biomass to Enviva (i.e., clear cuts of wetland forests). They also spotlight the vast quantities of whole trees and other large-diameter wood—biomass feedstocks known to be high-carbon—entering Enviva’s supply chain.
The results portray a disturbing pattern: a significant proportion of Enviva’s pellets are produced using trees and other large-diameter wood from native hardwood forests. Multiple independent, peer-reviewed, and governmental studies have determined that these feedstocks increase carbon dioxide emissions, not reduce them, even compared to fossil fuels like coal. Yet, European Union policy still considers all biomass incineration to be “carbon neutral”, and fails to require utilities that burn biomass to account for their carbon emissions at the smokestack.
European policymakers are increasingly looking to “sustainable” sourcing standards to ensure their biomass imports are “green”. Yet, the damaging practices documented in these investigations are all happening under the umbrella of such “sustainable” standards.
Countries looking to meet their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement and phase out coal should stop wasting billions of scarce public resources subsidizing dirty and destructive biomass energy. Instead, policymakers need to invest in truly clean and cheaper energy technologies like solar and wind.