Secure Biomass Policies that Account for Carbon and Protect Forests

Overview
August 10, 2015

Large swaths of forest in the southern United States are being cut down and burned as fuel for power plants. Burning trees to generate electricity creates more carbon pollution than coal, gas, and oil. It also destroys forests, which help clean the water and air, provide habitat for wildlife, and store carbon pollution.

NRDC is fighting to protect these vibrant ecosystems and ensure that utilities realize our forests are not fuel. We track the growing biomass industry—companies who produce fuel derived from plant matter—as European demand for wood pellets drives its expansion. NRDC analysts found that U.S. exports of wood pellets reached 3.2 million tons in 2013 and are expected to jump to 5.7 million tons in 2015. More than 98 percent of exports went to Europe, destined for use in power plants to help meet the continent's renewable energy targets.

Just because trees grow back doesn’t mean they are a “carbon-neutral” fuel source. NRDC research confirms that burning forests for energy emits large amounts of carbon pollution and destroys their ability to absorb and store CO2.

Our advocates encourage U.S. policymakers and utilities on both sides of the Atlantic to shift to other renewables as well as to more limited and more sustainable forms of biomass. Short-rotation energy crops like switchgrass, for instance, can reduce carbon pollution or achieve carbon neutrality within one to three years. Landfill gas and forest and crop residues (the leftover trimmings that would have otherwise been burned in the field) also have the potential to quickly reduce carbon pollution.