June 18, 2019

Right now, an emerging environmental disaster is underway across the Southeast. Energy companies are moving quickly to cut our southern forests and burn the trees as a fuel for electricity-generating power plants.

Burning trees to produce electricity is dirty and destructive. It creates more carbon pollution than coal, gas, and oil. It destroys forests and our heritage along with them.

Yet, in the southeastern U.S., the massive fuel needs of these energy companies could double logging rates and increase carbon emissions significantly—contributing to climate change at a time when we need to be rapidly cutting our carbon pollution.

We know our forests aren't meant to be burned as fuel. Forests are the places where we hike, camp, hunt and fish with our families. Forests enhance our quality of life and our wellbeing. Forests are home to native animals, plants and other species that will have nowhere to go if their habitats are destroyed. Once a Southern forest is destroyed through industrial logging, its benefits for our communities vanish with it.

You can help. We all have a voice and a role to play in protecting Southern forests. People who live near forests are in jeopardy of losing this treasure and must join together and speak out. Urge these energy companies to protect our cherished southern forests. 

Burning whole trees is worse than burning coal.

Until recently, electricity produced by burning plant material—called biomass energy—was widely considered an important "renewable" resource—along with technologies like solar, wind, and geothermal. But biomass was never meant to include whole trees much less entire forests. Over the past two years, emerging scientific evidence has discredited biomass from whole trees as a clean, renewable fuel. We now know that burning trees to produce electricity actually increases carbon pollution, meaning it has an even worse impact on climate change than coal and other fossil fuels. And it destroys ecosystems that can never be replaced.

Our southern forests are exported to produce electricity overseas.

Burning trees for electricity has skyrocketed in Europe. Major European utilities are now burning massive amounts of wood in their power plants. The demand for wood in Europe has resulted in the proliferation of manufacturing facilities across the Southeast to produce wood fuel. These manufacturers clear forests, grind the trees into wood chips and "wood pellets" and ship them from ports in the Southeast to ports in Western Europe. Last year alone, wood pellet exports from Southern ports increased 70 percent, making the Southern US the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world.

U.S. utilities are also beginning to generate electricity from wood.

Domestic utilities here in the United States are also beginning to turn to biomass, creating the prospect of large-scale burning of trees. Now is the time for utilities to look toward clean, non-destructive sources of power instead.

Alternatives to burning trees are available.

Alternatives to burning trees for electricity do exist. Wood or agricultural materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill or burned are the preferred alternatives. In addition, the use of sustainably grown agricultural crops or the limited use of the tops and limbs of trees might represent better options for reducing carbon emissions than using whole trees. However, the use of these sources can result in significant, negative environmental impacts unless strict sustainability standards are adopted. It is important to recognize that most of these alternative sources of biomass are limited. Therefore, utilities should increase their focus on energy efficiency and the development of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.

Utilities and manufacturers have an opportunity to make the right choice.

Market trends and projections point to a major increase in biomass energy production over the next decade in both the United States and Europe. Several large utilities and energy corporations have plans to expand their use of wood as a fuel source. But no company—utility or pellet manufacturer—has announced a long-term corporate policy to reject whole trees in their biomass operations.

These companies can now make the right choice. We urge these corporations to choose alternatives to burning trees, and to announce their leadership in using, non-destructive energy sources that will actually reduce carbon emissions. As leading developers of forest biomass as a fuel source, these companies have an opportunity now to take swift and decisive action before investments are made and the problem reaches a scale that is irreversible for our forests and climate.

Individual and business buying power can make a difference.

Most consumers of energy are unaware of the damage to our climate, our forests and our communities that comes from burning trees. These consumers, especially large commercial customers, can urge utilities and their wood suppliers to take a leadership role and choose to develop clean, non-destructive sources of power.