Big Trouble In Dirty Biomass

It’s time to look back at 2022, where it took us, and where we’re heading. Something profound is happening. The biomass industry’s house of cards is collapsing.

The wood pellet industry has run rampant for nearly a decade. They’ve gained support behind closed doors. Support from governments around the world, private investors, and large conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Rural communities were largely unaware of the impacts and unprepared. So the promise of green jobs was especially attractive.

The biomass industry relies on lies and misinformation. Claims that burning trees for electricity is good for our climate, forests, and communities. Every year, we debunk those claims with:

  • hard evidence
  • the backing of scientists
  • the stories of people living near their dirty and destructive operations

Every year we demand decision makers protect our forests and communities from this industry.

Large clearcut hardwood forest in the Coastal Plain

Last year, our work gained traction and has industry scrambling on many fronts. The green smokescreen cleared. This revealed in predominantly Black, low-wealth communities across the South:

  • smokestacks of pollution
  • devastated forests

By the end of 2022, the sum of our hard work together resulted in five strong trends. These trends show that support for the biomass industry is eroding. The people power is working!

1. Rollbacks on Biomass Subsidies

The biomass industry relies on subsidies from the government. These subsidies are based on the lie that burning trees for electricity is good for the climate. We must stop biomass subsidies if we want to protect our Southern forests and communities.

The Netherlands revisited biomass subsidies in a big way in 2022. They passed a measure ending subsidies for new biomass plants. The Dutch government became so upset with the lies and misinformation from companies. So they passed a motion to end biomass subsidies to “untruthful” wood suppliers. They even specifically called out Enviva. This could impact up to $10 billion in subsidies for wood pellet companies.

The UK Parliament debated biomass subsidies last year. The EU government even took some steps to limit biomass subsidies. Australia became the first country to exclude biomass from renewable energy.  So no subsidies for biomass Down Under!

2. Biomass Expansion Delays and Setbacks

Companies scrapped plans for a large biomass plant in the Netherlands after the subsidies ran dry. Those companies would’ve sourced wood pellets from the US South. Spectrum Energy in GA and Enviva in NC hit some snags in their plans to expand wood pellet production in the South. Every delay costs companies money and makes investors nervous.

Concerned Citizens of Cook County in Adel, GA working to Stop Spectrum Energy

How can we create more delays and outright rejection of industry expansion in 2023? By:

  • centering justice
  • supporting those suffering the impacts on the frontlines
  • providing the evidence and stories documenting the impacts
  • communicating the facts and concerns to decision makers

3. Increased Government Scrutiny of Biomass 

Now even governments here at home are taking a closer look. The US EPA moved forward on a study of the impacts of the wood pellet industry. They’re scrutinizing the state permitting and enforcement processes. The EPA is also investigating Drax’s impacts on the community of Gloster, MS.

A court in Georgia ruled there was enough evidence for an important lawsuit to move forward. The case claims the permit for the Spectrum Energy pellet mill in Adel, GA violated the Civil Rights Act. In NC, the Environmental Justice Advisory Board held a special hearing. The hearing focused on the wood pellet industry’s impacts to communities. The Advisory Board is now drafting up recommendations for agency action.

Community in Gloster, MS speaking out against Drax for polluting their air

4. Industry Insiders (Investors and Employees) Jumping Ship 

Private investors have started to take notice of all the:

  • restrictions on subsidies
  • increased government scrutiny
  • delays and setbacks

A scathing investor report exposed Enviva’s fraudulent green claims, prompting a shareholder to file a class action lawsuit against Enviva for fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission also launched an investigation.

A CBS Morning News Earth Day special report on the wood pellet industry  prompted an Enviva employee to say “enough is enough.” The whistleblower publicly confirmed in Mongabay that Enviva lies when it says it only uses “waste” to produce biomass pellets. His conscience led him to leave the company to find a truly green job.

5. Communities Powering Solutions

There are communities on the frontlines. They face the direct impacts of pollution and destruction every day. These communities are now taking matters into their own hands. Communities are demanding accountability from an industry that has long escaped scrutiny. The Adel community negotiated a landmark agreement with wood pellet manufacturer, Spectrum Energy. The agreement ensures community oversight and accountability.  Local communities in the Pee Dee Watershed in SC aren’t waiting for the government to protect forests. Two community-led forest protection projects are well underway. These projects have the power to disrupt the forest industry’s dominance on the rural economy of the South. They’re also building climate and economic resiliency.

The Pee Dee Indian Tribe acquiring land back and protecting the wetland forests of their original territory

Looking ahead to 2023

Let’s keep the pressure on so we can leverage even more wins! Word will keep spreading about industry greenwashing and gaslighting. More governments, investors, and big green laggards like TNC will cut ties with #BigBadBiomass. Together, we’re writing a new story for forest protection. A story that requires rejecting the logging industry’s legacy of exploitation in the South. We’ve got the wind in our sails. So let’s go for it!

Visit our Act Now page, and sign our petitions to keep the momentum going.


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