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Forest Bioenergy Defined As Carbon Neutral By Federal Amendment

An amendment to the Energy Modernization Act of 2015 introduced by U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, says that forest bioenergy is carbon neutral and recognizes biomass as a form of renewable energy. The idea behind it seems to be that wood can be burned from forests because although it releases carbon into the atmosphere, new trees can be planted that take it back out. However, it has been pointed out that it might take decades or even longer for the new trees to mature and remove carbon from the atmosphere, and during that time the added carbon would be contributing to climate change. So, burning wood from forests would not be carbon neutral, it would be carbon additive.


Another lesser point is that the sawing, processing, and transporting of the wood from forests would also likely release some carbon as well. How would you know how much carbon was being released by the burning of wood, and how many trees to plant and take care for many years so they would re-absorb the carbon that was released? There is also no guarantee that the newly planted trees will make it to maturity and absorb the carbon previously emitted.

The other issue is defining wood from forests as renewable, when the same length of time is required to re-grow forests that had been cut down for burning. In other words, forest re-growth takes too much time for burning them to be considered a renewable source of energy.

In fact, a number of scientists wrote a letter protesting the amendment’s definitions, “Legislating scientific facts is never a good idea, but is especially bad when the ‘facts’ are incorrect. We urge you and other members of the Senate to reconsider this well-intentioned legislation and eliminate the misrepresentation that forest bioenergy is carbon-neutral,” said the researchers.

Additionally, it seems to be that its supporters stand to make profits if more trees are cut down to burn for electricity generation. “Forest owners deeply appreciate the leadership of Senators Collins, Klobuchar, and King to emphasize the carbon benefits of biomass energy as part of our nation’s renewable energy solution,” said Dave Tenny, NAFO CEO.

Carbon benefits? Is that a new term?

The point of the amendment seems to be to define wood burning as more environmentally-friendly, so more money can be made selling wood from forests to burn.

The very strange thing about this amendment is that it doesn’t seem to be based in science. You also might think some of the people associated with it had not heard of solar, wind, or geothermal power.

Image Credit: David Cohen, editorial cartoonist for the Asheville (NC) Citizen Times, who has been involved with many other publications as well. His Facebook cartoon page is The cartoon was commissioned by the Dogwood Alliance.

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