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Historic U.S. southeast hardwood forests threatened by rapacious $11B wood pellet industry

Environmental researchers say Enviva sources pellets from whole hardwood trees in Virginia and North Carolina, while the company says it only uses tree tops, branches and other debris.

Environmentalists warn that every year hundreds of thousands of acres of forest are cleared in the southeastern US to make wood pellets to power European power plants in a deceptive attempt to fight climate change.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and other groups say logging in forests stretching from Texas to Virginia is devastating a biodiversity hotspot, including ancient hardwood trees that will take decades to replace. .

More than two dozen pellet mills operate on North America’s so-called coastal plain, which has already lost about 70 percent of its historic vegetation thanks in part to an $11 billion global industry set to grow at $20, 5 billion by 2030.

The European Union voted this week to phase out multibillion-dollar subsidies that make wood pellet fuels economically viable, but environmentalists like Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and others say it’s too little, too late.

Dr. Treva Gear, who campaigns against the opening of a second Spectrum Energy lumber mill in her hometown of Adel, Georgia, says logging, logging trucks and dirty pellet mills are tearing her community apart.

Environmental researchers say Enviva sources pellets from whole hardwood trees in Virginia and North Carolina, while the company says it only uses tree tops, branches and other debris.

Environmental researchers say Enviva sources pellets from whole hardwood trees in Virginia and North Carolina, while the company says it only uses tree tops, branches and other debris.

More than two dozen pellet mills operate in the prized forests of the North American coastal plain, says the Southern Environmental Law Center.

More than two dozen pellet mills operate in the prized forests of the North American coastal plain, says the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has criticized European subsidies that make burning wood pellets viable

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has criticized European subsidies that make burning wood pellets viable

“When we save the forest, we save the people and we often forget about the faces behind the forest,” Dr Gear told DailyMail.com.

“It’s an assault on the people to put up an industry that releases such a large amount of particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and dust into the air.”

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Wood pellets are made from compressed sawdust, logging debris, and even entire tree trunks and are used to fuel everything from home stoves to power plants.

Advocates say they are cleaner than coal and help governments meet near-term carbon emission reduction targets as far-flung solutions like wind and solar farms come online.

However, his green credentials are questioned. A 2017 study by the World Resources Institute found that burning wood emits 2.5 times more carbon dioxide pollution than natural gas and 30% more than coal.

The supposedly ‘green’ Drax power station in the north of England burns taxpayer-subsidized wood pellets sourced from the southeastern US to provide 12 per cent of Britain’s total electrical power.

Drax spews 15.6 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, causing the planet to heat up and causing extreme weather events like floods, droughts and storms.

The United States is the world’s leading producer of pellets, with 8.6 million tons of chips in 2019 or 22% of the world’s supply, mainly from the Southeast, followed by Canada (which produced 3.0 million tons), Vietnam ( 2.5 million) and Russia (1.6 million). ).

David Carr, a Virginia-based attorney for SELC, said the 7.5 metric tons exported by the US last year required the harvesting of 137,656 acres of forest, an area larger than American Samoa.

Enviva is the world’s leading pellet company. Its 10 plants in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi produce about 6.2 million metric tons per year, mostly for sale to the EU, Japan and Britain, including Drax.

Logged hardwoods processed by wood pellet maker Enviva in Sampson County, North Carolina, in 2017, according to campaign group The Dogwood Alliance

Logged hardwoods processed by wood pellet maker Enviva in Sampson County, North Carolina, in 2017, according to campaign group The Dogwood Alliance

Enviva Vice President Jason Eberstein says wood pellets fuel the economy of the Southeast, creating jobs and incentivizing landowners to maintain their forests and grow more trees. The pellets, he adds, are made from tree tops, branches and other debris.

‘Wood energy is… part of the solution that is available today. And one that is backed by science, embraced by climate leaders around the world, and supported by Democrats and Republicans alike,” Eberstein wrote in Real Clear Energy this month.

Clark University researchers disagree. Their study of satellite images found that between 2016 and 2018, Enviva pellet mills in North Carolina and Virginia sourced nearly half of their wood from nearby hardwood forests.

‘The vast majority of material harvested for these wood pellet facilities was tree trunks,’ the report says.

“Forest clearing on this scale can degrade water quality for downstream communities and destroy wildlife habitats, further threatening at-risk species.”

Another study conducted by University of Maryland geography professor Matthew Hansen in 2013 found that the rate of forest loss in the subtropical forests of the Southeast was four times that of the tropical rainforests of South America.

The looming shortage of Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine war has revived enthusiasm for heating homes with coal and wood pellets in Europe.  In the picture: a heating products store in Berlin, Germany

The looming shortage of Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine war has revived enthusiasm for heating homes with coal and wood pellets in Europe. In the picture: a heating products store in Berlin, Germany

Environmentalists campaign against Drax's burning of wood pellets and other biofuels outside Britain's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London.

Environmentalists campaign against Drax’s burning of wood pellets and other biofuels outside Britain’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London.

Worse still, campaigners say, is that the production and export of wood pellets is fueled by multi-billion dollar subsidies from the UK and the EU, which treat wood as a renewable energy to power power stations and ease the transition from fossil fuels. like coal.

The EU wants to expand renewable energy as quickly as possible as it seeks to accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral economy and end Russia’s dependence on fossil fuels, which is under sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine.

The European parliament voted on Wednesday in its renewable energy directive to “gradually reduce” public subsidies for the practice of burning trees and wood pellets for fuel, but sidestepped setting a deadline to end wood burning.

SELC’s Carr said the directive had “significant loopholes” that allowed many subsidies to continue, and this was only the “beginning of the end” for misguided climate policy.

Scot Quaranda, spokesman for the Dogwood Alliance, said parliament had squandered an “opportunity to fix the serious policy mistakes that allowed precious US forests to be burned to generate electricity in Europe”.

“Although they took a small step in that direction, the fact that they have not ended subsidies for this false solution to climate change means that more forests and communities will continue to suffer in the southern United States,” Quaranda told DailyMail.com .

Enviva, which makes wood pellets sourced from the forests of the southeastern US, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Enviva, which makes wood pellets sourced from the forests of the southeastern US, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

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