US wood pellet industry stirs environmental controversy

Insight

Seven years ago, the European Union set an ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent below their 1990 levels by the year 2020. In the race to find renewable sources of energy, many power plants in Europe turned to wind and solar, but those using coal found a cheaper solution: instead of burning coal, they switched to wood. That wood is mostly grown in America.

Europe’s search for biofuels has led them to Americas’ southern forests and wetlands, such as the Nottoway River in Virginia.

Many of the trees are logged for the sole purpose of grinding them up to later be converted into wood pellets. A clear cutting site in Waverly, Virginia was logged by the U.S. company Enviva, according to the non-profit organization, Dogwood Alliance.

CCTV America’s Nitza Soledad Perez reported this story.

US wood pellet industry stirs environmental controversy

Europe’s search for biofuels has led them to Americas’ southern forests and wetlands, such as the Nottoway River in Virginia. Many of the trees are logged for the sole purpose of grinding them up to later be converted into wood pellets. A clear cutting site in Waverly, Virginia was logged by the U.S. company Enviva, according to the non-profit organization, Dogwood Alliance. CCTV America’s Nitza Soledad Perez reported this story.

“The biomass industry is operating under the assumption that their practices are carbon neutral, and what is happening on the ground, nothing could be further from the truth in most cases, the burning of the wood actually produces more carbon into the atmosphere than coal,” said Adam Macon, the campaign director of Dogwood Alliance.

The executive director of the United States Industrial Pellet Association categorically denied the environmentalists’ accusations.

“The U.K. Department of Environment has come out with a report that shows the use of wood pellets for energy actually decreases the greenhouse gas footprint of energy between 74 to 90 percent as opposed to the use of coal. So it’s drastic greenhouse gas savings,” said Seth Ginther, the executive director of U.S. Industrial Pellet Association.

Enviva facilities in the southern U.S. states of Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia have a combined production capacity of 1.6 million metric tons of wood pellets a year. The U.S. government said that around 98 percent of American wood pellets get exported to Europe.

Environmentalists claim that Enviva is destroying forests to feed the European demand for wood pellets, disregarding sustainability principles.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. When you burn wood pellets or other kinds of wood biomass, what you’re releasing into the atmosphere is bio-genetic carbon. Bio-genetic carbon is part of the natural life cycle of the wood. So that bio-genetic carbon is reabsorbed by forests, many of the working forests that we source from, which then creates a carbon balance,” said Ginther.

Enviva declined to comment for this story, but on their website their “credo” promises to source their raw materials: only using low grade wood fiber and tops and limbs.

For more, CCTV America spoke to Andrew Deutz, director of international government relations at the advocacy group The Nature Conservancy.

Andrew Deutz on environmental conservation in US

Seven years ago, the European Union set an ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent below their 1990 levels by the year 2020. In the race to find renewable sources of energy, many power plants in Europe turned to wind and solar, but those using coal found a cheaper solution: instead of burning coal, they switched to wood and that wood is not coming from their backyards, but is mostly grown in America. There is no disagreement that the path to a cleaner planet begins by making it less dirty. To discuss more on this, CCTV America talked with Andrew Deutz. He's the director of international government relations at an advocacy group called The Nature Conservancy.