Environmental Balderdash: Exporting CO2 to EU

Source: Rachel Carson Council, cited by Cindy Elmore in RTD. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

In parts of Virginia, conservation groups are being paid by California to preserve forest land because trees capture the CO2 considered the culprit in global warming. In other parts of Virginia, large swaths of trees are being cut to convert into biomass fuel for European power plants, based on a claim that is a way to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

It would be so much easier to accept the climate crisis doomsday scenario if the proponents were not so contradictory and hypocritical. In both cases, the Californians and Europeans are doing this so they can keep pumping CO2-rich emissions into their atmosphere. They obviously don’t really fear CO2. 

The case for converting Virginia trees into biomass fuel pellets was made again in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Former Environmental Protection Agency director William Reilly is now a corporate director for Enviva, one of the most active companies in the field. His column is here.

“Forest owners who are denied the possibility of selling their trees will simply replace them with soybeans or another profitable land use,” he writes.  True, some will cut all their trees down for a solar farm. Anybody done a true carbon accounting on that?

2017 Data. Source, SELC. Click for larger view.

Reilly was clearly writing in response an earlier attack on the biomass environmental claims on the same pages, here. Cindy Elmore from East Carolina University was pointing at Enviva’s efforts to expand its operations in Virginia and just across the line in Norther Carolina:

The only reason why cutting Virginia forests meets the EU standard for greenhouse gas emissions is because emissions are measured only at European power plants. What never gets added to that equation are the effects of the carbon storage that’s lost when trees are cut down, or the carbon emissions from the massive, hot pellet plants, the logging and pellet trucks or from container ships that transport trees across the Atlantic. Even worse, new studies find that burning wood pellets for fuel releases as much as, or even more, carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal.

Plenty of environmentalists are pushing back on Enviva’s plans to cut so many trees for so worthless an effort. The Southern Environmental Law Center is an opponent, convinced that the use of wood pellets in not carbon neutral, along with the general concerns about loss of the forest land and wildlife habitat. On its web page you can find:

A 2012 study (pdf) jointly commissioned by SELC and the National Wildlife Federation found that wood is not an inherently carbon-neutral energy source, as the power industry has claimed. Moreover, a 2019 Spatial Informatics Group analysis, commission by SELC and the National Wildlife Federation, found that burning wood pellets produced by Drax Biomass’ own U.S. wood pellet mills for electricity in the UK results in an increase of carbon pollution in the atmosphere for more than 40 years, well beyond the timeframe necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Even within the United Kingdom, where the climate crisis is seen as apocalyptic, this effort is drawing skepticism. This from the BBC a couple of years ago.

Mr Brack says the assumption of carbon neutrality misses out on some crucial issues, including the fact that young trees planted as replacements absorb and store less carbon than the ones that have been burned.

Another major problem is that under UN climate rules, emissions from trees are only counted when they are harvested. However, the US, Canada and Russia do not use this method of accounting so if wood pellets are imported from these countries into the EU, which doesn’t count emissions from burning, the carbon simply goes “missing”.

Yet the practice continues and Enviva and others expand the exports. The trees keep coming down, replaced by seedlings. As part of its efforts to create a 100% renewable tariff to sell to its customers (at a premium), Dominion energy wants to count biomass burned either at pure biomass plants or mixed with coal at coal plants.

This is best kind of virtue signaling, because it works both ways. Keep the trees, give Californians an offset to pump out more emissions, and bask in virtue. Cut down and grind up the trees, let Brits pump more carbon into the troposphere, and bask in virtue. Count your money. When some future politician declares the 100% carbon neutral power goal met, it will be 100% as bogus as this.

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25 responses to “Environmental Balderdash: Exporting CO2 to EU

  1. The “renewable fuels” sector is a cesspool of influence-peddling and special pleading. That’s not to say that there aren’t totally legitimate ways of reducing CO2 emissions, but there’s no denying that the sector is replete with hucksters and hypocrites. Look no farther than the ethanol industry. Who could deny that a Green New Deal would be overrun with these rent seekers?

  2. Biomass shortcomings have been noted by major green groups like NRDC for several years. What’s your point? Boost fossil fuels?

  3. Obviously Virginia has been touting biomass (tree) buring for many years. We have several coal plants that feed coal + wood. This practice is somewhat unique to Virginia and I agree it is controversial. For those of us in NoVA, this is an invisble activity that we do not see happening, but it does seem to be big business for the State. I wish I understood better what the heck we are doing….it is sort of under the table sneaky.

    Much of the climate change debate is political and punitive. Many Americans have politically correct energy choices that they prefer, but if you look at the eco-benefits, it is not so clear. I would put electric vechicles , as well as ethanol in gasoline, in this category. Biofuels in general is not always a good thing, but it is “green-washable” re: spin. And unfort that works.

  4. Well, first you have to divide out the deniers from the believers and the deniers would do nothing apparently because they don’t believe it’s a real problem. Then you get on to the folks who do believer it is a problem – and like a lot of other environmental issues – it’s not simple and clean on answers. For instance, electric cars – powered by coal is not “green” at all. And if natural gas, a critical fuel for renewables, if that fuel emits methane which is many times more potent than CO2 – what is the right answer?

    Environmental groups don’t agree – there is debate – despite the folks on the right and the denies portraying them as all in lockstep – and wrong. Now, we also can accuse them of being contradictory.

    but I go back to the top – if you think it IS a problem – EVENTURALLY you’ll agree or at least compromise but if you are a denier – you just do nothing (other than ding the enviros).

    • What about the fraudsters in climate science? I’ve read studies that indicate as much as 20% of all the scientific “evidence” produced with respect to all sciences is fraudulent. But not climate science. Right?

      We don’t measure most temperature measurements. They are extrapolated. Similarly, climate scientists have altered their charts to fit their arguments.

      The planet is warming but the climatenistas are rent-seeking.

      • Good point. For example, what rabid environmentalist acknowledges this:

        “Solar power. Solar panels on Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base generate a minuscule 15 megawatts of electricity, about 40% of the year, from 72,000 panels on 140 acres. Arizona’s Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant generates 760 times more electricity, from less land, 90-95% of the time.

        Generating Palo Verde’s electricity output using Nellis technology would require acreage ten times larger than Washington, DC. And the solar panels would still provide electricity only 40% of the year.

        Generating the 3.9 billion megawatt-hours that Americans consumed in 2018 would mean we would have to completely blanket over twelve million acres – half of Virginia – with solar panels, and get the Sun to shine at high-noon summertime Arizona intensity 24/7/365, wherever we install those panels.

        Wind power. Mandated, subsidized wind energy likewise requires millions of acres for turbines and new transmission lines, and billions of tons of concrete, steel, copper, rare earth metals and fiberglass.

        Like solar panels, wind turbines produce intermittent, unreliable electricity that costs much more than coal, gas or nuclear electricity – once subsidies are removed – and must be backed up by fossil fuel generators that have to go from standby to full-power many times a day, very inefficiently, every time the wind stops blowing. Turbine blades already kill raptors, other birds and bats – perhaps a million or more every year in the USA alone. Their light flicker and infrasonic noise impair human health.

        Modern coal and gas-fired power plants can generate 600 megawatts some 95% of the time from less than 300 acres. Indiana’s Fowler Ridge wind farm also generates 600 megawatts – from 350 towering turbines, sprawling across more than 50,000 acres (much more than Washington, DC), less than 30% of the year.

        Now let’s suppose we’re going to use wind power to replace those 3.9 billion megawatt-hours of US electricity consumption. Let’s also suppose we’re going to get rid of all those coal and gas-fired backup power plants, natural gas for home heating, coal and natural gas for factories, and gasoline-powered vehicles – and replace them all with wind-powered electricity. We’ll also use wind turbines to generate enough extra electricity every windy day to charge batteries for just seven straight windless days.

        That would require a lot of wind turbines, as we are forced to go into lower and lower quality wind locations. Instead of generating full nameplate power maybe one-third of the year, on average, they will do so only around 16% of the year. Instead of the 58,000 turbines we have now, the United States would need some 14 million turbines, each one 400 feet tall, each one capable of generating 1.8 megawatts at full capacity, when the wind is blowing at the proper speed.

        Assuming an inadequate 15 acres apiece, those monster turbines would require some 225 million acres! That’s well over twice the land area of California – without including transmission lines! Their bird-butchering blades would wipe out raptors, other birds and bats across vast stretches of America.

        But every turbine really needs at least 50 acres of open space, and Fowler Ridge uses 120 acres per turbine. That works out to 750 million acres (ten times Arizona) – to 1,800 million acres (ten times Texas or nearly the entire Lower 48 United States)! Eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, geese and other high-flying birds and bats would virtually disappear from our skies. Insects and vermin would proliferate.

        Manufacturing those wind turbines would require something on the order of 4 billion tons …” End Quote;

        For more see:

        https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/09/12/buckets-of-icy-cold-reality/

      • Here is another great truth that rabid environmentalists refuse to acknowledge while they pursue extreme policies that otherwise directly threaten world peace, and would have already and now could far more easily lead to war.

        For example, this from Walter Russell Mead in today’s WSJ:

        “… Iran’s actions since May—demanding money from the Europeans, restarting its nuclear program, attacking Gulf shipping, and inflicting massive damage on a major oil facility—all have aimed at forcing the U.S. to provide, or at least to allow others to provide, some relief to the flagging Iranian economy. That the American response to these provocations has mostly involved angry tweets has convinced some in Tehran—and Washington—that Mr. Trump will never fight.

        This misses the broader American strategy. The U.S. isn’t bombing Iran, but neither is it yielding on sanctions. As administration insiders see things, the driving force shaping the confrontation is Iranian impotence rather than American vacillation.

        Mr. Trump’s restraint so far is a sign of America’s wider geopolitical strength. Thanks to American fracking, Iran’s troublemaking in the Gulf hasn’t affected American motorists at the pump. As one insider put it to me, “The Permian Basin saved Tehran.”

        If Tehran continues to escalate its provocations in the Middle East and beyond, it will deepen its international isolation. On Monday, France, Germany and the U.K. blamed Iran for the Saudi attack. Continuing escalation will sooner or later cross a red line …”: End Quote.

        For more see today’s Wall Street Journal at:

        https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-rule-out-war-with-iran-11569279312

  5. If you think it is a problem, then it is silly to grant Californians an offset to maintain existing trees (so they can keep emitting), and outrageous to let Europeans be fooled into believing that cutting, grinding, importing and burning US trees in their plants is a net plus. My point, Peter, is despite all the posturing and preening the amount of CO2 just seems to keep going up.

    • I know this is a shocker but there ARE “silly” groups out there but the simple facts are there are a LOT of trees in Virginia… and typically what
      a lot of owners do – is grow trees like a crop. When they mature, they get cut and new seedlings are planted.

      as Peter says “burning” anything is emit GHG… the idea that “pellets” would be more environmentally “friendly” is balderdash to the max!

      You hear this kind of talk from folks who are not environmentalist who think they understand enviromental issues and they simply don’t and they buy these foolish claims.

      If you can show me HOW such a money for trees scheme actually works, I might reconsider but my quess is that this a made up thing.

      The ehtanol thing is funny because many environmentalists are opposed to it and the most ardent supporters are quess who? – the farmers who see it as a win-win – it is subsidized AND it can boost the price of corn overall..

      the “hypocrisy” is not the environmentalists….

      read on:

      Study: Ethanol Worse for Climate Than Gasoline

      ” At first blush, biofuels such as corn ethanol and soybean diesel seem like they would be great from the standpoint of global warming. The crops soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, and that balances out the carbon dioxide they produce when they’re burned. But until now, nobody has fully analyzed all the ripple effects of this industry. And Tim Searchinger, a visiting scholar at Princeton University, says those effects turn out to be huge.

      “The simplest explanation is that when we divert our corn or soybeans to fuel, if people around the world are going to continue to eat the same amount that they’re already eating, you have to replace that food somewhere else,” Searchinger says.

      Searchinger and his colleagues looked globally to figure out where the new cropland is coming from, as American farmers produce fuel crops where they used to grow food. The answer is that biofuel production here is driving agriculture to expand in other parts of the world.

      “That’s done in a significant part by burning down forests, plowing up grasslands. That releases a great deal of carbon dioxide,” Searchinger says.”

      https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18784732

      The bottom line is that most environmentalists want to do what’s right to protect the environment and in turn the living things that depend on it. The answers are not easy and unintended consequences are always a threat. But in the end – their motivation is to conserve and preserve – not without disagreement and debates.

      The non-enviros, on the other hand, basically refuse to take part in any of it and prefer to throw rocks and accuse enviros of bad faith, socialism and all manner of impure motives ….

      There are indeed some “environmentalists” that are wacko jobs… no question but you don’t look at the extremes if you are serious – you look for the middle – where positions are more moderate and pragmatic – and a realization that we cannot force things on others – we have to have a majority who supports changes.

  6. Right on target, Steve. Especially surprised that you did not mention the hypocrisy of U.S. ethanol policies, as Jim did.

  7. I don’t like Trump. But Washington D.C. is a filthy sewer of rent seekers. Environmentalists, who generally are funded with tax-free dollars, are busy trying to raise the cost of living for people who make $50 K or less per year, yet stay silent when the glitterati fly private jets or take private yachts to global warming parties, emitting more greenhouse gases in a few days than the people who must be punished for running their air conditioner in August or having a car do in years.

    Meanwhile the media go gaga over some Swedish teenager who preaches against climate change.

  8. In Brazil and Malaysia many acres of rainforest have been taken out for sugar-cane ethanol for cars, and biodiesel from Palm Oil (exported to Europe) for cars. That is not to say eco-responsible biomass methods are impossible, but it is hard. EU finally started cutting back on the palm oil but the damage was done.

  9. Pingback: Environmental Balderdash: Exporting CO2 to EU | CBD Biomass Supply

  10. Like I said earlier – some folks ARE concerned about the environment and are motivated to try to do the right thing which is often a recognition that our activities DO have impacts and some are much worse than others.

    Other folks don’t give a rats behind about the environment beyond saying they “care” but in reality blame environmentalists for all manner of things of which they themselves refuse to acknowledge or take a stand on – just blame others.

    you pick your slot and when you do – admit it.

    the world is full of “do-gooders” as it is full of rent-seekers – both cause harm – one in the name of trying to do good and the other unabashedly selfish.

    This country, not that long ago had open sewers with direct discharge into waterways. The Potomac river in the 1960’s was a fetid brew of disgusting and dangerous stuff.

    The air quality in major urban areas in the 60’s was so bad there were health-damaging hazes 24/7.

    We had folks who work to reduce our impacts – and we had folks who argued that it was too costly and “hurt” people, especially the poor, financially.

    These anti-environmetalist arguments are not new but they are more virulent than ever. Folks who say they want a clean Chesapeake Bay but refuse to support ANY effort to reduce pollution to it – oh they decry the combined sewer overflows or storm water runoff but ask them to pay to reduce it and they part company post haste!

    Like I said -you take a stand, and own it honestly, and the ones that do want to work to improve the environment are not a perfect group by any stretch of the imagination – but they are the ones that have succeeded in cleaning up our air and water, the environment on earth, while others stood aside and just criticized. There ARE environmental groups that are moderate and pragmatic – choose one or admit that you are opposed to the concept itself with flimsy excuses that demand that they be perfect before you can accept them.

  11. You seem to miss my point, that these two efforts (California’s offsets and EU use of wood pellets) are fraudulent and fail to reduce CO2 emissions. I agree, not all efforts are a waste and not all advocates are engaged in fraud. The perfection some seek is going to be incredibly expensive to seek, and will be impossible to achieve. We should focus on steady progress to what can be done. All of the “end of the world” models have proven inaccurate, for 30 years now.

    • If I was Vladmir Putin I would be giving Xi Jinping high-5’s at the next face-to-face meeting. The free world has been defeated without nukes or war. We are devolving into a banana republic of anarchy over a social-media powered hysteria due to a hypothetical Armageddon theory.

  12. Steve, Don’t get me wrong. I found your post very interesting, especially the graphic. I’m not saying you are doing this but what sometimes bothers me on this blog is a tendency to set up straw men arguments such as “liberals say this, but” or “social justice warriors say this, but.” The wood chip thing might be construed as a “green say this, but…” and then commentators take the ball and move to the usual op;inions about global warming inaccuracy and hype.
    As you note in the your post, a number of green groups see big problems with biomass and carbon. About 10 years ago, I traveled to SW Va (for BR no less) to do a story about Dominion’s hybrid power plant in Wise County.It went into operation about seven years ago and burns coal, gob coal, and chips. It was fought over by green groups such as the Sierra Club and SELC for doing so. Dominion was promoting biomass as an environmentally worthy fuel. So, if you want to assess blame for hype, here it is.

    • Why is clear evidence of missed climate projections a strawman and not evidence related to credibility? Why is clear evidence that a huge number of reported temperature measurements not measured at all but extrapolated not evidence of the validity or invalidity of conclusions? Why is clear evidence that trend lines have been adjusted not evidence of the validity or invalidity of conclusions? Why is environmental group silence when the “glitterati” create tons and tons of greenhouse gas emissions going by private jet and yacht to international pontifications on climate change not evidence of credibility?

      I always viewed you, Peter, as an old time journalist who still looked at all the facts and evidence and wrote what you saw, rather than today’s advocacy journalist who writes a conclusion irrespective of the facts. What’s happened?

      I don’t write off concerns about warming and rising oceans. But the world is full of liars and cheats trying to line their nests.

  13. Oh, understood. As with ethanol, the green bona fides are hard to find. Another kind of green at work here. The shipyard was in that Virginia City coal case, also expressing great skepticism. Yes, it was Dominion but also the timber interests. The other area I find laughable is carbon capture. Hey, build more solar, supplement it with storage, develop some offshore wind (not on the back of ratepayers), but understand that the 100% goal puts the grid at great risk.

  14. Please see my comment at Bacon Bits regarding the grid risks and new studies from RMI. Grid reliability can be met with renewable “portfolios”, geared to each locale.
    About Biomass … you are right! “Even worse, new studies find that burning wood pellets for fuel releases as much as, or even more, carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal.”

    Your report is accurate and selling the tress under such a phony rationale is despicable. I couldn’t agree more. However, I can’t agree with your conclusions regarding what is happening. All your excellent citations show that a change in point of view has basically happened over the last 6-7 years.

    You say .. “the Californians and Europeans are doing this so they can keep pumping CO2-rich emissions into their atmosphere. They obviously don’t really fear CO2.”

    How about … this is a disagreement with Mr. Reilly, a man with excellent credentials, but who served on the environmental side of the climate crisis a long time ago. Reilly was at the EPA from 1989-1993, the time that the Petroleum Institute was just getting started sowing climate doubt.

    Reilly’s EPA term was followed by service as a director of Conoco Inc. from 1998 until its merger with Phillips Petroleum Company in 2002. Then he served as a director of ConocoPhillips until May 2013. In addition, from 1993 until April 2012, Mr. Reilly also served on the board of directors of E.I. duPont de Nemours and Company. Not sure when he became a director at the tree company but …. his point of view doesn’t align with what climate change advocates are saying now. Biomass as renewable energy today is indeed “100% bogus”.

    Virginia had a biomass facility built by NOVEC back in 2010-11, when I was trying, unsuccessfully, to promote PACE loans and solar in Northern VA. “Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, its development partner, NOVI Energy, and approximately 150 federal, Virginia state, and local officials, and guests celebrated the grand opening of the NOVEC Energy Production Halifax County Biomass plant in South Boston, Virgina on November 14th, 2013.

    The $178 million renewable-energy power plant, which can generate up to 49.9 megawatts of electricity, burns wood chips for fuel. The plant is capable of providing enough electricity to power the equivalent of 16,000 NOVEC homes, but all of the Cooperative’s 150,000 customers will share in “green” power distribution.

    It was considered “renewable” because it used waste products. “The plant will use waste wood leftover from logging operations in Southside Virginia as fuel. The wood fuel, chopped into small wood chips, will burn inside the boiler to create steam that will turn turbines and generate electricity.” That rosy picture is no longer held by most as your excellent article proves.

    Regarding Europe and UK … from the Guardian in June 2018 … quote ..
    The wood pellets industry claims that it uses tree branches and waste wood, but environmental groups say there is strong evidence that vast swaths of valuable, untouched forest have been felled in states including North Carolina and Florida to feed the growing sector.

    UK-based researchers found last year that burning wood is a “disaster” for climate change because older trees release large amounts of carbon when they are burned and aren’t always replaced with replanted forests. Even when trees are replaced, it can take up to 100 years to cultivate a wooded area that soaks up as much carbon as was previously released. And the fuel burned in shipping wood pellets to Europe is also a significant source of emissions.

    So … I see this as another BUSINESS scam. Let’s not let them take down Virginia’s forests and ship the wood across the Atlantic. This venture will make climate matters worse everywhere.

    • Jane – how does Fairfax County’s longstanding arrangement with a vendor to burn garbage to generate electricity fit in your mind? I see the concern with burning but we also need to think incrementally. If burning X emit less greenhouse gas than burning Y, it may be better to burn X.

      Again, I’m not against reducing greenhouse gases as a waste of time even though I think many environmentalist organizations are rent seekers and close their eyes to bad data or analysis.

      • It has been a long time since I investigated trash burning vs landfills and it was before the climate crisis was known. What I have supported is recycling and understand that we have plastic problem now. I also understand that we evidently shipped a lot of recycled ‘stuff’ to Asian countries that are now saying no.
        Old time trash burning was toxic, but I suspect it could be done with air controls. Exactly what the burning produces and what could be curtailed matters, I would say, but I do not know.

  15. Pres. Obama’ Secretary of Energy from 2013-17, Mr. Moniz, endorses my energy policy here on Bacon’s Rebellion as regards Africa. See it in today’s Wall Street Journal.

    Here are some snippets from that article:

    ” Natural Gas Will Make Africa Greener, It’s more reliable than wind or solar, cleaner than wood or diesel.”

    … if the continent’s standard of living is going to improve, it’ll take more than windmills and solar panels.

    Africa’s economy is growing, but its gross domestic product per capita remains low. A majority of sub-Saharan African countries have per capita electricity consumption of only a few hundred kilowatt hours per year—the dividing line between developing and developed countries in the U.N.’s Human Development index is 4,000 kilowatt-hours per person per year. More than 600 million Africans—roughly half the continent’s population—lack electricity. Even for households and businesses with access, the supply is too often unreliable. Blackouts can be mitigated by only expensive backup power, usually from highly polluting diesel engines.

    … In the majority of countries in Africa, less than 25% of the population has access to clean cooking fuels. They instead burn wood and charcoal, which releases substantial pollution and contributes to deforestation.

    … In the majority of countries in Africa, less than 25% of the population has access to clean cooking fuels. They instead burn wood and charcoal, which releases substantial pollution and contributes to deforestation.

    … Africa’s energy future necessarily includes natural gas. African countries, lacking investments and infrastructure, have yet to take full advantage of their abundant natural-gas reserves. The continent is home to 7% of global reserves and sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to have 400 gigawatts of gas-generated power potential. Sixteen countries in Africa have notable gas reserves, but only 11 have the necessary gas-fired generation capacity installed.

    Expanding Africa’s infrastructure for natural gas would promote rapid industrialization and also improve its current industries …”

    For more on this WSJ article go to:
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/natural-gas-will-make-africa-greener-11569366698

    These circumstances and needs for gas powered energy are found around the world, so must be satisfied with gas, and nuclear in order to lift billions of people out of poverty in a responsible way. What Va does is largely irrelevant.

  16. TMT,
    There are many types of writing, including opinion on blogs.

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