Written by Claire Morgenstern
The forests of the southeastern United States are home to black bears, millions of songbirds and countless species of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. They’ve taken thousands of years to develop into the magnificent wildlands they are today.
Now, energy companies are clearcutting vast swaths of those irreplaceable native forests and burning them for fuel.
Torching forests for energy not only creates more global warming pollution than coal, gas and oil, it wipes out the very trees that capture the carbon pollution spewed by power plants. In other words, it’s a double whammy for the environment.
Here’s how it works: Enviva, the South’s biggest wood pellet manufacturer, cuts down whole trees and grinds them up into wood chips and pellets. Those chips and pellets are then sold to electric utilities — Virginia-based Dominion Power and Britain’s Drax Group are the primary players — to fuel power plants and produce electricity.
Demand for pellets only continues to grow as utilities ramp up their plans for the large-scale burning of trees. Drax now plans to consume seven million tons of wood annually — equivalent to burning a forest four times the size of Rhode Island — and Dominion recently announced it would convert three of its Virginia power plants from coal to wood fuel.
To feed this skyrocketing demand, both in the U.S. and in Europe, Enviva has announced plans to double its production of wood pellets in the coming years. In fact, the American South is now the world’s largest exporter of pellets, with exports from southern ports growing 70 percent in the last year alone.
This all boils down to one urgent question: How much more destruction can our sensitive wetland forests take? They’re already under stress from industrial logging for wood and paper. With Enviva accelerating production, “the additional pressure from the energy industry could be more than these ecosystems can bear,” says Debbie Hammel, head of NRDC’s Our Forests Aren‘t Fuel campaign.
And at what cost? More sustainable energy alternatives like mill and agricultural waste for pellets and true renewables like solar, wind and geothermal energy will all help keep the lights on without destroying our forests in the process. Energy companies should be investing in these solutions.
We can’t let a few corporations plunder some of America’s last and greatest wild places. NRDC is mobilizing a nationwide outcry to escalate pressure on the CEOs of Enviva, Drax and Dominion to stop burning our forests for fuel and invest in clean energy. Please do your part by sending your own message telling the energy giants to stop burning our forests for fuel right now.
Photo Credit: Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service