Jan 17, 2021
Welcome to Audible Café!
Today I’m speaking with Scot Quaranda of the Dogwood Alliance. From their website: “For over 20 years, Dogwood Alliance has worked with diverse communities, partner organizations and decision-makers to protect Southern forests across 14 states. We do this through community and grassroots organizing, holding corporations and governments accountable and working to conserve millions of acres of Southern forests.” And one of their major campaigns is called “Our Forests Aren’t Fuel” - taking on the forest biomass industry.
I’ve been looking at the forest biomass issue recently, and I’d like to bring you a series of shows about it, not only because burning forest biomass threatens our environment and our health as much or more than coal or oil, but it is destroying entire forest ecosystems for the profit of corporations, and for little to no return to the people who live in these deforested regions, and who actually pay for the huge profits these corporations make from it through massive subsidies. And we’re only at the beginning of this monster - with pending changes to energy regulations here in Massachusetts, the biomass industry is coming for OUR HEALTH and OUR FORESTS. Just ask Governor Baker.l
I’m going to try to untangle this complex subject for you, so that you are in full possession of the facts.
I’m relying on the great work of a lot of people for this show. Just a few are the Partnership for Policy Integrity or PFPI, the Dogwood Alliance, The film “Burned: Are Trees the New Coal?”, and other sources. See below for links
FOREST BIOMASS is fuel derived from the burning or heating of growing things, like trees and other plants. We’re discussing the industrial scale forest biomass, not your home woodstove, although home woodstoves are terribly polluting despite their cozy appeal.
The fact is, we’re clear-cut logging the forests of the southeastern United States at an alarming rate for biomass fuel for export to Europe. The trees being cut down, processed into pellets, and shipped to Europe, are causing devastation to the southern states, especially along the Atlantic coast, and it’s all being touted as “clean” energy, “renewable” energy, “green” energy. It’s helping governments meet their carbon goals here and in Europe and the UK, and the entire industry is based on a lie.
The big lie is that the burning of trees is a clean, green, sustainable energy solution. Anyone with a smidgen of common sense would conclude that this couldn’t possibly be true, and it isn’t. But by some bizarre “accounting error” — let’s point out this was no error - this was political and corporate maneuvering to make the logging and biomass industry a LOT Of money.
Let’s break it down:
The logging companies cut down the trees. How do they get access? The same way industry vultures got access to coal in the South and fracking rights across our country — they coerce and bribe decent people who have no money to speak of to sell the logging rights to their land. Or they access public forests, like what’s happening now in Massachusetts - by manipulating the political power brokers, like Governor Baker, into passing regulations that favor the cutting of trees for profit. Or they simply buy up the land and create biomass plantations, turning thriving, diverse bioregions into moonscapes.
Once the trees are cut down, they are transported to biomass plants where they are either burned for electricity — a stupid way to meet our electricity needs if ever there was one — or processed into pellets for Europe’s energy needs. And no government is really counting the carbon cost of this process! Voilà!! A convenient “accounting error” — where no country is counting the carbon cost of decimating our forests — and they all get rich.
But how are these industry giants getting rich? Our tax dollars. There are HUGE subsidies and tax breaks for the biomass industry. Otherwise, it would not be profitable! But it is, hugely profitable, and all the costs are borne by the earth of course, who suffers the most, and by US, the regular folks.
Here are the ways we all suffer: the devastation of clear-cutting in the first place, which turns a thriving, living, diverse forest with all the creatures that live there, into a dead, desolate waste-land. It’s a soul-crushing experience, to witness the before and after of a clear-cut, and it should be. Because if a person has an intact heart and soul, ,they know deep in their bones that it is wrong, that it is horribly, horribly wrong, to perpetrate this kind of violence on any single living thing, let alone on the millions of living beings destroyed when a region is clear-cut. The forests that shelter us, and sustain life, and are living, breathing beings in their own right. All the biological diversity that lived in those forests can NEVER be replaced by a pine plantation, a monoculture. Pine trees are lovely, but they can’t replace diversity all on their own.
It’s devastating to our health to live anywhere near one of these biomass plants - and by the way, there is one planned for Springfield, Mass, on the Palmer Renewable Energy Corporation (don’t let the name fool you) site, to be built and operated right in the middle of the ASTHMA CAPITAL of the United States, Springfield, Mass, and not coincidentally, in an environmental justice neighborhood, which means people who live in poverty or are low-income, who have been disenfranchised of their power to stop such a project because they don’t make huge contributions to politicians.
So, why is this all allowed to happen? It’s because people who are in power plot for years, decades even, to lay the groundwork for their money-making schemes. And they have plenty of money for schmoozing politicians, dumping thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions into their campaign chests. When we say we need to “get money out of politics” that’s what we’re talking about. GETTING MONEY OUT OF POLITICS so politicians can think straight and make good decisions. Our elected representatives are so distracted by having to immediately start fundraising the minute they take office, pressured by the political machine of their parties, that of course they can’t just do their jobs! The entire system is a mess.
So that’s the groundwork for my great interview with Scot Quaranda, Communications Director for the Dogwood Alliance.
Thanks for listening to Audible
Burned: Is Wood the New Coal? a documentary film
About the Palmer Paving Corporation’s proposed biomass plant in Springfield, Mass:
Arise for Social Justice website
“Scrutiny persists over biomass plant in Springfield.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. December 31, 2020.
“Mass. Has Strong Rules About Burning Wood For Electricity. In 2021, It Plans To Roll Them Back.” WBUR report. December 22, 2020.