Environmental Justice and Conservation Organizations Slam The Nature Conservancy for Promoting Government Subsidies for Industrial Logging, Biomass & Wood Production in the 2023 Farm Bill
TNC’s policy agenda fuels environmental racism, climate change and forest destruction; Betrays communities of color on the frontlines of the climate crisis
Washington, DC (August 10, 2023) – As Congress works on the 2023 Farm Bill, environmental justice groups, forest protection organizations and climate scientists are blowing the whistle on The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for promoting government subsidies that support increased industrial logging and more polluting biomass and wood pellet plants being built in low-income communities.
TNC has signed onto a platform designed to influence Congress’s reauthorization of The Farm Bill promoting subsidies and other forms of government support for the forestry industry to the detriment of environmental justice communities, climate and forests. The platform calls for “full funding for the wood innovation grant program,” which provides subsidies for biomass and other “innovative” uses of wood from logged forests. The platform also calls for measures to: “continue research and innovation for the use of wood to expand markets” and “expand the federal government’s commitment to reflect the carbon benefits of advanced wood construction.”
These federal subsidies benefit companies like Enviva and Drax, two of the world’s largest wood-pellet producers, which have been repeatedly exposed for making false green claims, destroying forests and releasing illegal levels of pollution in low-wealth, predominantly Black communities across the South.
TNC – along with Enviva and other wood products companies – also signed onto a policy platform via the Forest-Climate Working Group that helped secure billions of dollars in subsidies for logging and wood production in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Both Drax and Enviva have touted the benefits of these government subsidies as they seek to expand operations across the country.
“TNC publicly claims they aren’t aligned with Enviva or Drax, but they continue to advocate for federal subsidies that benefit the biomass industry,” said Kathy Egland, program and policy director of EEECHO and chair of the NAACP National Board’s Environmental Justice Committee. “TNC is working against front-line environmental justice communities that are bearing the brunt of the wood pellet biomass industry’s pollution and destruction. This has to stop.”
Reverend Michael Malcom of the People’s Justice Council added, “The Nature Conservancy must stand with the planet and people who are being harmed or remove ‘conservancy’ from their name. If not, they must define who or what they are conserving. At this point, they appear to be conserving polluters and profiteers.”
In contrast to TNC, over 200 of the nation’s top climate change scientists and ecologists have urged Congress to increase protection of forests from logging. They note that annual carbon emissions from logging in U.S. forests is now comparable to those from burning coal in the U.S.. At the same time, the biomass industry has come under fire by environmental justice organizations and impacted communities who are suffering health impacts associated with the hazardous air pollutants emitted at wood pellet mills and increased flooding associated with industrial logging.
“Despite ongoing calls from numerous organizations and prominent scientists to stop, TNC continues to push for massive subsidies to accelerate wood production to the benefit of some of the worst players in the forestry industry,” said Danna Smith, executive director of Dogwood Alliance. “In doing so they are undercutting vital efforts to protect forests and community health as the dirty wood pellet and biomass industry is expanding. We continue to call on TNC to stop promoting the forest products industry as a climate solution and to redirect its efforts to help protect forests and communities.”
In 2022,158 climate, forest protection, environmental justice and faith organizations were joined by prominent conservation biologists and climate scientists in publicly calling on TNC to stop pushing a pro-forestry-industry, pro-logging policy agenda.
“It’s disappointing to see TNC continuously ignoring the harms the forestry industry is inflicting on environmental justice communities,” said Rev. Leo Woodberry, pastor of Kingdom Living Temple and executive director of New Alpha Community Development Corporation, in Florence, SC. “We need government support for community health and forest protection, not more taxpayer dollars going to industry.”
Standing forests are vital to our ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and provide natural protections for communities against extreme weather. Scientists have warned that increased wood production will accelerate carbon emissions and further degrade other important natural services that standing forests provide, such as flood control and protection of clean drinking water.
“The policies TNC and industry are pushing together will result in even more forest destruction and carbon emissions at the very moment in time when we need to be doubling down on forest protection. The logging industry does not need more government handouts,” said Dr. Chad Hanson, executive director of the John Muir Project.
But the logging industry along with TNC have been pushing for subsidies to support wood markets, forest industry jobs and wood products as a so-called climate solution. Meanwhile, the IPCC is warning that “protection of forest ecosystems is the priority for reducing GHG emissions.” ( IPCC AR6 WG2 page 303.)
“Logging is the leading driver of carbon emissions from U.S. forests,” said Dr. William Moomaw, professor emeritus at Tufts University and a lead author of five reports by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “When forests are logged, carbon that would otherwise be stored is released to the atmosphere. We must protect more forests across the country to meet global climate goals. Government support for wood production and logging is taking us in the wrong direction.”
The groups blowing the whistle on TNC are calling on Congress and the Biden Administration to halt all subsidies and government support for biomass wood pellets and enact:
- Funding, policies and government support that helps landowners keep forests standing and keep carbon in the forests;
- Regulations and policies that drive significant reductions in pollution in environmental justice communities;
- Additional investments in the acquisition of community-owned forests and non-extractive, nonpolluting forest-based jobs such as outdoor recreation;
- Protection of public forests from logging; and
- Protection of old growth and mature forests on all forestlands.
Last year, a coalition of scientists, environmental justice groups and forest protection organizations published The Nature Conspiracy, an online magazine highlighting TNC’s consistent pattern of prioritizing the financial interests of landowners and industry ahead of the climate, biodiversity and human health when it comes to forest-related climate policy.