Major Anti-Climate Provision Added to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill

The just-released Omnibus Appropriations bill includes a controversial provision that declares burning of biomass for electricity carbon neutral – counting it as an equivalent to truly clean energy sources like solar and wind power, even though biomass greenhouse gas emissions generate approximately 150% the emissions of coal and 300-400% those of natural gas per unit of energy produced. The provision is expected to inhibit the development of the solar and wind industries, and also contribute to increased levels of conventional air pollutions. Ramping up electricity production from forest biomass would take vast amounts of tree and woody material. The proposed conversion of the Boardman plant in Oregon from coal to biomass would require 3.8 million tons of biomass a year, which would be sourced from national forests.

In response, Henry Waxman, Chairman of Mighty Earth, said:

“Just because Congress says burning trees for electricity is carbon neutral doesn’t mean that it is. This provision repeats some of the same mistakes in the Renewable Fuel Standard that has had massive unintended negative consequences for forests, the climate, and consumers. By incentivizing dirty energy, this policy will disadvantage truly clean renewables like wind and solar.

"This provision is a blatant attack on science. Science clearly shows that burning of trees for electricity produces far more pollution than even coal. Congress should leave climate science to the scientists.

"The policy also sets an example for rainforest nations, suggesting that somehow burning forests is a solution to climate change. As such, this policy plays into the hands of some of the world’s worst forest destroyers.”

For additional background, see Chairman Waxman’s op-ed on this topic in The Hill.

Other resources:

Partnership for Policy Integrity Study:  “Carbon emissions from burning biomass for energy”

New York Times: “Next ‘Renewable Energy’: Burning Forests, if Senators Get Their Way”

Oregon Sierra Club Study: PGE Tests Biomass at Boardman Coal Plant - New Report Highlights Climate and Forest Consequences for Country's Largest Biomass Proposal

Featured photo: © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Victory: Biomass Loophole Removed from Legislation

BREAKING: the proposed amendment to federal legislation that would incentivize burning of biomass by declaring it “carbon-neutral” seems to be officially dead. This amendment was stripped from the pending energy bill, and the Continuing Resolution that was made public this week does not include it either. We’re very happy about that. 

Staff at Waxman Strategies and Mighty worked closely with partners at the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club,, and a large coalition of state environmental and public health groups made this a top issue in conversations with members of Congress. We worked to ensure that public concern about burning trees for energy, minus any carbon accountability or plan for forest health, was covered in the Pacific Northwest media -- here, here, here and here. 

This news comes just as we've released a new report in conjunction with the Oregon Sierra Club about the Boardman Power Plant (located in Northern Oregon). It is slated to stop burning coal in 2020, which is great news, but it is planning unfortunately to shift to biomass, which would increase its pollution. The plant would be, at 600 megawatts, the largest biomass power plant in the country. We analyzed what the proposed conversion might mean in terms of carbon pollution (way up, biomass has greater smokestack emissions than coal) and forest management (the plant would need 3.8 million tons of woody material a year). The report is available online. 

Featured image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry and can be found here.

PGE Tests Biomass at Boardman Coal Plant

New Report Highlights Climate and Forest Consequences for Country’s Largest Biomass Proposal

Portland, OR –  Today, the Sierra Club released a report analyzing a proposal from Portland General Electric (PGE) to convert the state’s last coal plant in Boardman, Oregon into one of the world’s largest biomass facilities. The report finds that the proposal may pose major implications for air quality, forest health, and carbon reduction goals.

The Boardman Power Plant in northern Oregon is slated to retire in 2020. However, this month, staff are testing the plant’s capacity to run on woody material and energy crops. If the test succeeds, the Boardman plant could be converted to run on 100 percent forest biomass for 5 months of the year.

The new report demonstrates the likely implications if the conversion is made. Key findings include:

  • An average biomass power facility emits 40-60% more carbon than coal plants do per megawatt hour of energy generated.
  • Over 3.8 million tons of trees and woody material would be needed to operate the plant for 5 months a year. Despite claims by biomass advocates, waste feedstock levels are negligible when compared to the facility’s needs. Therefore, whole trees from public lands would constitute the majority of the feedstock needed.
  • Over 800 trucks a day would be required to supply the Boardman facility during peak operation.
  • PGE is growing a highly invasive species of giant cane as a feedstock. Arundo Donax causes major damage to ecosystems and watersheds and is opposed as a viable energy solution by dozens of environmental groups.

“The retirement of the Boardman facility creates an opportunity to replace coal with clean energy like wind and solar, which would be in keeping with the landmark coal transition legislation passed in Oregon earlier this year,” said Rhett Lawrence, legislative director for the Oregon Sierra Club. “There is simply no need to turn our forests into fuel because cleaner energy alternatives are already at hand.”

Even though the carbon consequences of biomass are well established, Congress is currently considering legislation that would designate biomass energy as “carbon-neutral.” Just as oil, coal, and gas must be kept in the ground, if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, so too must trees be kept in the forest.

Caitlin Doughty
(619) 787-3912
[email protected]

Featured image courtesy of Tedder on Wikimedia commons. 

Biomass Campaign Heats Up

As a massive Oregon power plant gears up to convert from burning coal to burning trees, a Congressional fight over whether or not forest biomass is carbon neutral is more than just theoretical.

Mighty is part of the campaign to ensure that carbon pollution from burning biomass is properly counted. Instead of including burning trees in the same category as wind or solar power, Mighty is leading efforts to convince key members of Congress to reject legislative proposals to declare forest biomass ‘carbon neutral.’ In Oregon, our efforts helped get over twenty environmental organizations signed onto a letter to Senators Wyden and Merkley in October to ensure that biomass' carbon footprint is determined scientifically, not arbitrarily rounded down to zero.

Read more about the campaign in local coverage.

From the Oregonian:

The [climate and conversation] groups say the [carbon neutral] designation is scientifically inaccurate. They also believe it would spur the expansion of large-scale biomass plants that spew greenhouse gases and other pollutants by protecting them from future carbon regulation.

"This could fundamentally change the industry, and we could see our forest management practices altered on the need to feed these plants," said Alexander Harris, a conservation organizer with the Sierra Club.

"It's not carbon neutral, and we should be having an honest debate about whether we want to be treating our forests as feedstock," said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland. "These are natural systems, not feedstock." More.

From the East Oregonian:

The Environmental Information Administration suggests all that biomass would not actually displace coal use in the U.S., instead taking a 21 percent bite out of solar energy.

“It’s displacing other renewables,” said Mary Booth, director of Partnership for Policy Integrity, an environmental think tank. “There’s no question it increases stack emissions.” More.


Waxman blasts egregious biomass rider

Former California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman is criticizing language in the fiscal 2017 Interior Department and U.S. EPA spending bill he said would amount to a "loophole" that ignores carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of biomass for energy.

"It is absurd to think of burning wood as carbon neutral," Waxman, now chairman of the advocacy firm Waxman Strategies, told reporters in a conference call today. Continue reading.

Automakers need to stick with fuel efficiency plan

Sacramento Bee op-ed by Henry Waxman

It’s a great success story in the fight against climate change.

The U.S. auto industry has met President Barack Obama’s tough fuel economy and carbon pollution standards, as cars built in 2016 average 25 miles per gallon and emit the lowest rate of carbon ever.

But rather than celebrating this triumph of American engineering and using it as a platform to achieve needed new gains, some auto companies want to roll back the next phase of tougher emissions and efficiency standards.

Read more.

How the Paris Climate Agreement Supercharges the Clean Air Act

Think Progress Article by Greg Dotson and Joe Romm.

A group of leading law professors who work on climate have published a game-changing new legal analysis. It finds that the Paris climate agreement unlocks a previously unused Clean Air Act provision that enables broad authority to use market-based mechanisms to reduce carbon pollution nationwide.

Last December in Paris, the U.S. committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2025. That target appears more than achievable given a variety of existing policies, including congressionally-approved incentives for renewable energy, national fuel economy standards, and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which requires states to develop plans to cut carbon pollution and existing power plants. Read more.