Groups Globally Oppose Plans to Burn Wood for Electricity Citing Impacts on Forests, Climate, Communities

For Immediate Release   24 April 2013

London, England – In conjunction with an action in London today outside of the Drax power plant, organizations and networks from around the world released an Open Letter expressing opposition to plans by UK utility Drax to burn nearly 16 million tonnes of mostly imported wood biomass, in a coal power station [1].

Drax is one of several European companies converting older power stations from burning coal to burning wood pellets or co-firing pellets combined with coal. US and Canadian energy companies are also investing in biomass power stations and co-firing coal with wood. This trend, supported by renewable energy policies, is establishing massive new demand and international trade in wood pellets, and represents a huge threat to forests, biodiversity, climate and communities.

Lacking forest resources to meet their own demand, European energy companies like Drax seek to import pellets especially from the southeastern US and British Columbia, Canada. In the longer term, they plan to invest in pellets made from industrial tree plantations in South America and/or Africa.

Campaigners warn that mounting evidence clearly indicates that the massive demand for wood pellets by Drax and other energy companies threatens to accelerate both climate change and deforestation, contribute to air pollution, and is falsely supported as “carbon neutral.” This, in spite of mounting evidence, shows that burning trees for electricity results in more CO2 emissions even than burning coal.  The carbon debt created lasts decades or even centuries.

The rise in deforestation for biomass also diminishes carbon sequestration in forests, results in degradation of soils, waterways and biodiversity, and is contributing to speculative investment and “land grabs” which are often displacing forest dependent communities.[2]

Furthermore, in the US, this fast-growing new demand for wood is being used by biotech company Arborgen [3] to justify development and commercialization of risky genetically engineered, fast growing and freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees.  The US Department of Agriculture is currently considering Arborgen’s petition requesting legalization of some of their GE eucalyptus lines [4].

Anne Peterman from Global Justice Ecology Project and the Stop GE Trees Campaign explains: “False claims that bioenergy is low-carbon and sustainable are being used by Arborgen and other biotech firms who seek commercial release of their fast growing GE trees. Arborgen has targeted the US South for massive industrial plantations of their freeze tolerant eucalyptus from South Carolina to Texas.

“These GE eucalyptus have been called ‘flammable kudzu’ due to the fact that they are both fire-prone and highly invasive.  They also require vast quantities of water, will deplete already stressed freshwater resources in the region, and will displace wildlife. The Stop GE Trees Campaign, with more than 250 member groups, is planning to protest Arborgen’s plans for deregulation at the upcoming Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference in Asheville, NC next month,” she continued.

Rachel Smolker from Biofuelwatch states: “Today, environmental and social justice groups worldwide are standing in solidarity with protests against one of the world’s biggest biomass power companies, Drax.  These protests follow just over a week after a global day of action initiated by Australian activists attracted worldwide attention (see: http://biomassacre.com/) and just weeks prior to protests planned at the upcoming tree biotechnology conference. It is high time that policymakers take note: burning trees for electricity is unacceptable and should not be subsidized as ‘clean, green, sustainable or renewable.'”

Contacts:

Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch (Co-Director). +1.802.482.2848 (office), +1.802.735.7794 (mobile). rsmolker@riseup.net

Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project (Executive Director), STOP GE Trees Camapign (Coordinator), +1.716.931.5833 (office) +1.802.578.0477 (mobile) globalecology@gmavt.net

Notes:

1] The Open Letter can be found at http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/DRAX-AGM-signon.pdf.  It is supported by 48 non-UK organizations, including Friends of the Earth International, Global Forest Coalition and World Rainforest Movement.  Separately from the letter, 16 UK-based groups are supporting a protest outside the Drax AGM today:  http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/drax-agm-targeted-over-biomass-conversion-plans/.

[2] For a list of studies, please see http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/resources-on-biomass/. Note: UK coal cofiring is in part driven by the introduction of new regulations on sulphur dioxide emissions. Coal plants that would otherwise have to shut down, can meet the new standards by partial substitution of wood, thus perpetuating the lifespan of these polluting  facilities.

[3] Arborgen is a joint initiative of timber companies International Paper, MeadWestvaco and Rubicon.

[4] See: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2012-0030-0001

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