Scientists urge Biden to remove logging, fossil fuels and biomass from budget bills

  • More than 100 scientists issued an open letter urging US President Joe Biden and members of Congress to remove provisions favoring logging, forest biomass and fossil fuels from infrastructure and reconciliation bills (Build Back Better) of several billion dollars.
  • Both bills contain provisions on logging for timber and for forest biomass energy, with the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the House of Representatives from the United States on November 5.
  • While the infrastructure bill promises $ 570 billion in tax credits and investments to fight climate change, it also includes a mandate for 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of ” additional logging on federal Crown lands over the next 15 years ”.
  • “The subsidies and policies relating to logging and fossil fuels in the reconciliation and infrastructure bills will only intensify the pace and intensity of our climate change,” the letter said.

More than 100 scientists with expertise in ecology, forest management, biodiversity and climate change published an open letter to US President Joe Biden and members of Congress last week. Scientists have urged leaders to remove provisions favoring logging and fossil fuels from multibillion-dollar infrastructure and reconciliation bills.

Late on November 5, the US House of Representatives passed the $ 1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill, which deals with roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure, and which Biden is expected to sign. . The nearly $ 2 trillion social infrastructure Build Back Better Act, also known as the Reconciliation Bill, has yet to be passed. This second bill implements changes in the federal budget and advances Biden’s agenda in immigration, child care, tax credits, health care, climate change , etc.

Although the infrastructure bill includes $ 570 billion in tax credits and investments to fight climate change, in areas such as public transport, electric vehicles and modernization of electricity grids, 106 international scientists who wrote the letter say provisions have also been added for logging and fossil fuels. contrary to climate objectives.

Temperate rainforest in Washington State Olympic National Park. These forests store large amounts of carbon – far more than what is stored by plantations of biomass trees. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

“The infrastructure bill includes a legislative mandate for 30 million acres [12 million hectares] additional logging on federal Crown lands over the next 15 years, in addition to diverting billions of dollars from new subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and an environmental scan exemption for new oil and gas pipelines through federal lands, ”the letter reads.

Logging in America’s forests emits levels of CO2 comparable to emissions from burning coal – over 723 million tonnes. Emissions from logging are more than 10 times the combined amount of CO2 generated by forest fires and tree death from insects.

Scientists write that, even with the removal of provisions for logging and fossil fuels, the clean energy measures supported in infrastructure and reconciliation bills are insufficient to meet the administration’s goal of a 50% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States from 2005 levels by 2030.

Both laws contain provisions on logging for timber, forest biomass energy and wood pellets. The combustion of biomass, in particular wood pellets to produce energy, is very controversial. Because wood is technically a renewable resource, carbon emissions from biomass are currently counted as producing “zero emissions” by the UN and by many countries, allowing the exploitation of what is called the “gap”. of biomass carbon accounting ”.

However, the combustion of biomass is not carbon neutral. Researchers, including those at the Woods Hole Research Center, have established that burning wood pellets generates higher levels of emissions than coal per unit of energy produced because more biomass is required to generate the same amount. energy than coal. In addition, cutting down trees and converting them into wood pellets which are then burned releases carbon that once stored carbon in the atmosphere. This forest carbon is not recovered and sequestered again until more trees are planted and sprouted, which can take decades. However, drastic reductions in global emissions are most needed now and in the short term to prevent catastrophic climate change.

The Drax power station in the UK, the largest user of woody biomass for power generation in the world. Drax’s Biomass Dome, seen here, once burned coal, but now burns pellets and wood chips. Photo credit: DECCgovuk on VisualHunt / CC BY-ND.

“As the nations of the world come together to discuss solutions to climate change, we in the United States must get our house in order,” Doris Duke Chair of Conservation at Duke University told Mongabay. and one of the main signatories of the letter. an email. “Logging – and in particular the misguided harvesting of wood for wood chips, releases nearly three-quarters of a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. This is supported by pervert [national] financial subsidies and, unfortunately, by some misguided and ill-informed conservation NGOs.

“It’s all about the money,” said signer Bill Moomaw, a leading international biomass researcher for energy and professor emeritus at Tufts University, in a 2019 interview with Mongabay. “The wood pellet industry is a monster out of control. “

The reconciliation bill, a fast-track spending bill expected to receive votes by the end of November, contains more than double the amount of existing subsidies for logging on federal public lands: $ 14 billion. It also proposes “nearly a billion dollars in new subsidies for forest biomass energy, wood pellet installations and solid wood (cross-laminated timber) under the heading” wood innovation “”, according to the letter.

“This ignores the advice of hundreds of climate and forest scientists who have previously informed Congress that these industries are dramatically increasing emissions and worsening the climate crisis,” the letter said.

Last week in Glasgow, Scotland, at the COP26 climate conference, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson released the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, with more than 100 countries committing to “stop and reverse the loss of forests” by 2030. Among those leaders was US President Biden.

“Today, I am announcing a new plan to conserve the world’s forests, which will bring together a full range of tools the US government – diplomatic, financial and political – to stop forest loss, restore our critical carbon sinks, and improve land management, ”Biden said in a speech at COP26 on Nov. 2. “Through this plan, the United States will help the world achieve our common goal of stopping the loss of natural forests and restoring at least 200 million more hectares. [494 million acres] forests and other ecosystems by 2030.

1/11/2021.  Glasgow, UK.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes Joe Biden, President of the United States of America to the COP26 summit.  Photo by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes US President Joe Biden to the COP26 summit in Glasgow, UK on November 1, 2021. Image by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street.

“Today’s big announcement at the COP to stop deforestation is very misleading,” Moomaw told Mongabay in an email. “It’s about stopping deforestation in the Amazon, as the United States and Canada continue to add large amounts of carbon from their clearcutting and forest management practices. The UK continues to replace charcoal with wood pellets from the US and does not count emissions at all and claims big reductions in its own emissions. “

Scientists writing in the open letter to Biden note that, according to the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emissions must be halved by 2030 “to avoid large increases in Devastating thermal domes, prolonged droughts, forest fires that can impact communities, intense rainfall and catastrophic storms. “

“The logging and fossil fuel subsidies and policies in reconciliation and infrastructure bills will only intensify the rate and intensity of our climate change,” the letter said.

Additional reporting by Justin Catanoso.

Banner image by US President Joe Biden in New York, NY, January 7, 2020 via Lev Radin for Shutterstock.

Liz kimbrough is a writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough_

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Climate change adaptation, biomass burning, carbon, carbon conservation, carbon emissions, carbon sequestration, climate, climate change, climate change and forests, climate change policy, climate policy, climate science, controversial, deforestation, drivers of deforestation, emission reduction, Energy, Energy policy, Environment, Environmental law, Environmental policy, Environmental policy, Forest carbon, Forest loss, Forests, Global environmental crisis, Global warming, Global warming mitigation, Globalization , Green, Greenhouse gas emissions, Impact of climate change, Land use Change, Pollution, Reforestation, Trees

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Natalee Broderick

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