The US Cannot Continue as the Global Leader of Forest Destruction
The United States is home to some of the world’s most diverse forests. Protecting these forests is as vital to solving the dual climate and environmental justice crises as transitioning to clean, renewable energy.
Unfortunately, the rate of forest degradation in the United States is one of the worst in the world. Threats to US forests are accelerating with a recent increase in the use of wood for electricity generation, in spite of scientific warnings that substituting coal or gas with wood will accelerate climate disruption.
As President Biden works to uphold his promises to address climate change and environmental justice, we must urge him to establish strong, ecologically-sound, and environmentally-just protections for our forests.
Standing, living natural forests are our only hope for removing and storing enough carbon from the atmosphere at the scale necessary to help stabilize the climate and keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees. Forests also provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, soil productivity, fresh air, and natural flood control, helping to protect our communities from the worst climate change impacts.
However, the US is among the world’s largest producers and consumers of wood products. Logging rates are among the highest on Earth. The scales have tipped towards looking to our forests primarily as a wood-supply store, largely ignoring their life-supporting and climate stabilizing functions.
The reality is that massive extraction and degradation of forests occurs in the US at one of the fastest rates in the world. Threats to US forests are accelerating with a recent increase in the use of wood for electricity generation, in spite of scientific warnings that substituting coal or gas with wood will accelerate climate disruption.
It’s Time to Hold the Forestry Industry Accountable for its Climate, Biodiversity, and Community Impacts
For decades, forest policy in the US has served to support the forest products industry, ensuring economic returns for large corporations and private landowners at the expense of healthy forests, workers, and communities. The forest products industry is driving massive carbon emissions, degrading forests, polluting the air and water, and compromising vital ecosystem services. The impacts, like so many other dirty and destructive industries, disproportionately harm low-income and communities of color.
As President Biden works to uphold his promises to address climate change and environmental justice, we must urge him to establish strong, ecologically-sound, and environmentally-just protections for our forests, as they are central to fulfilling these pledges.
From the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast, communities are calling for a Green New Deal for forests to meet the pressing needs of mitigating the climate crisis, defending communities against its worst impacts, and advancing a just transition.
ACTION: Sign the petition to President Biden: In order to ensure your robust climate action will be successful, you must include protections for forests.
Brazilian Rainforest Trust
Climate Hawks Vote
Friends of the Earth
Indigenous Environmental Network
John Muir Project
The Juggernaut Project
Progressive Reform Network
Robeson County Sustainable Development Cooperative
ACTION ALERT: Reject Fossil Fuel and False Solutions in Clean Energy Standard Targets
Dear Member of Congress:
(March 18, 2021) — On behalf of our millions of members and activists nationwide, we write to express our concerns about the role of fossil fuels and other false solutions in recent proposals to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2035.
Although we applaud this new and genuinely ambitious timeline, technology-neutral frameworks pose an unacceptable risk to communities and the climate. The Clean Energy Standards (CES) now under discussion in Congress should rigorously define clean energy to include proven solutions like wind, solar, storage and efficiency — and exclude all fossil fuels and other false solutions. Sacrificing the very definition of “clean” in order to achieve 100 percent clean energy is self-defeating.
The CLEAN Future Act (H.R. 1512) is a prime example of the type of half-measure we must avoid. The CES in the newly proposed bill is defined broadly enough to allow “natural” gas (fossil gas), biomass, and nuclear power to qualify. These false solutions are not clean energy and undermine efforts both to reduce emissions and protect communities from pollution.
This iteration of the CLEAN Future Act includes encouraging environmental justice provisions that would benefit communities disproportionately exposed to pollution and climate impacts. That said, any legislative proposal that includes the promotion or facilitation of false energy solutions effectively debases any and all provisions, however strong, dedicated to increasing and centering environmental justice. Unfortunately, the legislation, as written, contradicts itself — recognizing the importance of reducing, removing, and preventing additional pollution in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities on the one hand, and promoting false climate solutions that do not stop emissions or other pollution at their source on the other.
Fossil fuels are not clean energy. Fossil gas is a threat to our air, water, and climate. The health consequences of fracking, and their tendency to fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color, are well-documented. The idea that any fossil fuels should qualify under a CES even on the basis of “partial credits” is an astounding concession that would subsidize existing fracked gas infrastructure and slow the deployment of cleaner and cheaper renewables.
The solution is not to more accurately measure the lifecycle emissions of gas to determine its role in a CES. The solution is to exclude gas entirely. Every segment of the gas supply chain is a source of harm regardless of whether it is also a source of super-polluting fugitive methane emissions. From drill bits and pipelines to compressor stations and power plants, communities in the path of fracking are in danger. A CES should promote the orderly phase-out of fracked gas and other fossil fuels—not prolong their existence by egregiously qualifying them as “clean.”
Biomass is not clean energy. Burning biomass is uniquely dangerous to both the climate and public health. In the US, most of the biomass electricity generated comes from burning wood or garbage. These are extremely dirty sources of electricity: biomass power plants and garbage incinerators emit more carbon dioxide and harmful air pollutants per unit of energy than coal plants, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and particulate matter, the leading cause of air pollution-related deaths in the country.
Many biomass plants burn whole trees, tires, and treated lumber such as creosote railroad ties, resulting in highly toxic air emissions. As is so often the case, these polluting facilities are disproportionately sited in low-income communities of color already more heavily burdened by pollution.
The accounting gimmick required to claim that burning biomass is carbon neutral ignores the immediacy of the climate crisis. Electricity production from woody biomass not only releases carbon and co-pollutants, but also destroys the forests that we rely on to provide natural carbon sequestration. While burning trees to produce electricity instantly releases their stored carbon, it can take over a century for forests to regrow and absorb that same amount of carbon. Even when hypothetically sourced from wood ‘wastes’ from logging operations, there is a net increase in carbon emissions for decades.
Burning biomass for energy is incompatible with the scientific consensus that we need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase forestation in order to combat the climate crisis. In addition, it props up the fossil fuel industry, treating biomass energy as having zero emissions allows coal plants to artificially reduce their ‘on paper’ carbon emissions when they co-fire with woody biomass. From both a climate and an air pollution perspective, it is not clean energy and has no place in a CES.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not a climate solution. Technological carbon-capture applied to high-emitting sources like petrochemical or fossil fuel power plants acts as a license to continuing polluting. The technology does not eliminate source emissions; even if it worked perfectly, it would at best reduce them. But the benefit of these emission reductions is undermined by the additional emissions generated from the CCS process itself. Worse, CCS actually exacerbates the climate crisis when captured carbon is used to pump more oil out of the ground. Subsidies for CCS, enabled by its inclusion in CES proposals, could entrench the fossil economy for decades to come.
Claims that combining CCS with bioenergy (BECCS) is “carbon negative” are based on the disproven assumption that biomass energy is “carbon neutral.” Using bioenergy crops for BECCS will have enormous land use impacts, including the social justice impacts of fuel production competing with food production, and using wood for BECCs will result in large reductions in forest carbon sequestration.
CCS also poses environmental, health, and safety risks. Deploying CCS at scale demands a vast new industry involving chemicals (used in carbon capture technology), massive pipeline networks, and toxic waste dumping that threatens frontline communities. Transporting CO2 by pipeline and injecting it underground are both potentially very dangerous. A leak or rupture from a CO2 pipeline can lead to potentially catastrophic releases that can harm nearby communities; and CO2 injection can threaten water supplies and cause seismic activity. Both the Gulf Coast of Texas and the Southern Louisiana petrochemical corridor known as “Cancer Alley” are being targeted for industrial CCS development, which would impose new pollution and safety risks on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities already suffering the disproportionate and deadly impacts of environmental racism.
Nuclear power is not clean energy. The fuel chain for nuclear power begins with mining, milling, and enriching uranium, all of which are carbon-intensive processes that generate vast amounts of radioactive and toxic wastes. As a consequence, the industry is rooted in environmental injustice and human rights violations. The vast majority of uranium mines, mills, production facilities, reactors, and waste dumps are located in communities that are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, People of Color, rural, and low-wealth.
Each year, nuclear power plants in the US produce more than 2,000 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, the deadliest industrial byproduct in the world, which will pose a danger to human health and the environment for more than one million years. The US has no technology capable of isolating this waste from the environment, and no credible plan or policy to create one.
In reality, nuclear reactors throughout the country are aging and reaching the end of their useful lives, at an average age of more than 40 years. Wind, solar, and energy efficiency are already far more affordable and can be deployed much more quickly than nuclear power ever has been. A CES worthy of the name would support the phase-out of nuclear power as part of the transition to a renewable, zero-emissions energy sector.
False solutions do not align with the principles of Environmental Justice. The vast majority of the false solutions cited above would be situated in Environmental Justice communities, putting them at further risk. This is antithetical to the proposed goal of legislation like the CLEAN Future Act to limit new sources of pollution in already overburdened communities. For instance, the vast majority of existing CCS facilities utilize captured carbon dioxide to bolster oil production, not reduce emissions as ostensibly advertised.
The risks these projects pose to Environmental Justice communities was on display in 2020 when a pipeline carrying CO2 for enhanced oil recovery ruptured in Yazoo County, Mississippi — where the majority of the population is Black and 34 percent live in poverty — releasing carbon dioxide at high enough levels to require medical treatment for area residents and the loss of plants and wildlife in significant numbers.
Increasing the use of false solutions increases environmental racism, undercutting the environmental justice proposals in the current version of the CLEAN Future Act and rendering them specious. Environmental justice must not be viewed as or reduced to a theory or political talking point. It is a set of living principles that must be practiced in an effort to dismantle years and decades of systemic racism, dehumanization, extraction, and the rendering of Black, brown, Indigenous, and poor communities into sacrifice zones. The CLEAN Future Act and other CES proposals must remove false solutions to genuinely align with and adhere to these principles.
Conclusion: We urge you to reject proposals that mischaracterize fossil fuels, biomass, and nuclear power as clean energy. As we look to combat the climate crisis, it will be crucial to resist the disingenuous efforts of polluters to co-opt clean energy. Allowing dirty energy to be bundled with clean energy under a CES would prolong the existence of sacrifice zones around dirty energy investments and delay the transition to a system of 100 percent truly clean energy.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.