Forests Reduced to Wood Pellets

Andrew Burger

Iconic Southeast US Forests Being Devastated to Fuel Biomass Power Plants Overseas

Documentary evidence reveals that forests across the US Southeast are being devastated in order to supply demand for wood pellets that fuel biomass energy plants overseas.

Photographic evidence gathered by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Dogwood Alliance, and the Southern Environmental Law Center reveal that southeastern forests are being clear-cut to supply Enviva, the world's largest producer of wood pellets. "Millions of tons of Enviva's pellets are burned in power plants to produce electricity abroad-- primarily in the UK and other countries in Europe, and, increasingly, Japan," NRDC states in a news release.

“There’s nothing green about devastating these stunning forests and then burning the wood in dirty power plants,” said NRDC senior advocate Sasha Stashwick. 

“This investigation lets the public see with its own eyes the reality of this destructive industry.”

Governments subsidizing "dirty, destructive biomass energy"

What Enviva deems "low grade" wood actually often includes mature trees that have been storing carbon for decades or more. Burning them to produce energy releases that stored carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to the Greenhouse Effect and global warming, as well as destroying the environmental services these forests provide.

Enviva's wood pellet mills are located in areas with some of the highest logging rates in the world, the investigation partners point out. Surrounding communities have high poverty rates and face the threat of flooding as a result of climate change. 

“These forests and wetlands play a vital role in keeping our people safe from the worst impacts of flooding and storm surges,” said Dogwood Alliance Campaign Director Rita Frost. 

“No one can look at these horrific images and conclude that slashing forests and burning the wood for electricity is a viable solution to our climate crisis.”

"Clear-cutting forests for energy production is no solution to the climate crisis"
"...slashing forests and burning the wood for electricity is a viable solution to our climate crisis.”NRDC

The rate of logging in forests in the US Southeast is four times that of the Amazon, the group points out. Adding insult to injury, Enviva earlier in June announced a new "responsible sourcing policy." 

The wood pellets produced by Enviva are shipped to utilities overseas, such as the UK's Drax Power and Ørsted in Denmark. "Despite the claims of the industry, the independent reporting shows a disturbing pattern: wood pellets burned by Drax and others come from wood that is harvested from native hardwood forests in an area designated as a global biodiversity hotspot.

"They also spotlight the vast quantities of whole trees and other large-diameter wood— biomass feedstocks known to be high-carbon that are entering Enviva’s supply chain." 

Governments aiming to meet their commitments to the UN Paris Climate Agreement and phase out coal need to stop "using scarce public resources subsidizing dirty and destructive biomass energy," the group states. "Instead policymakers in the United Kingdom, other European Union member states, and emerging markets for bioenergy around the world should redirect investments to genuinely zero-carbon energy sources like energy efficiency, solar and wind."