Europe Is Burning U.S. Wood As Climate-Friendly Fuel, But Green Groups Protest

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

World leaders are gathering at a U. N. climate summit in Madrid this week to talk about how to reduce greenhouse emissions in the search for alternatives to fossil fuel. Some some countries have now turned to one of the oldest energy sources around would some are importing from the United States calling it clean and renewable but some environmentalists. Say this makes no oh sense. NPR's Dan Charles has the story on a soggy field in eastern North Carolina. Jason Too and his crew loggers cutting trees threes and sorting the logs into piles depending on their size. And what kind of would they are poplar. Sweet Gum Elm right there. Some piles will go into plywood. Some will become puffy absorbent fiber in baby diapers and then there's the least valuable pile the small limbs tops of hardwood trees. It's basically a trash. Should we would've normally hauled that back out in the woods and just left it. But now there's a new market for that Wood Pellet Mills they've expanded across the southeast over the past decade. They'll take this would crush it and pressed into little pellets. Ready for burning fuel the landowners. Getting some by we're getting some production is just an all around good deal do most of these pellets. Millions of tons each year. We'll get shipped to Europe where burned in power plants because some European governments are offering financial subsidies cities to burn these pellets. Instead of say coal it's supposed to help fight climate change. Here's Seth Ginther. Executive Director of the industry group that represents Wood Pellett companies. The carbon benefits are tremendous burning. Would also biomass does release lots of carbon dioxide the greenhouse gas. But the idea behind had the subsidies is you can let farce grow back. And as they do they'll recapture the carbon dioxide from the air and stored in their branches and roots again so it's considered renewable lable just like wind or solar the European Union literally just pass something known as the Renewable Energy Directive to and biomass sustainable biomass ass was unequivocally included as part of what can meet renewable energy goals but environmental groups are challenging that decision in court. They say the idea that large scale. wood-burning is carbon neutral is based on bad math and to explain exactly why Adam collect from the environmental group Dogwood Alliance takes me to another patch of land North Carolina near the town of Williamson. I know it doesn't look like much but we're gonNA take a walk. It's covered with bushes and little trees as maybe ten feet tall. In the south. We call it a briar patch but yet on paper this is a forest for years ago really was a forest with big trees rees then it was locked some of it went to make wood pellets. So let's count the carbon emissions accurately. Colette says when the big trees were cut they stopped opt capturing carbon dioxide from the air that benefit was lost at least temporarily and some of the carbon they'd previously stored was released into the air when the wood pellets were burned and as tree roots decomposed. But you won't see any of that in the official calculations of greenhouse emissions. He says none of it's ever been counted in any of our like emissions counting in the US or in Europe that's because the forest eventually will grow back and recapture that lost carbon but it could take a century for that to happen now. Seth Ginther from the US Industrial Pellet Association says his industry should not be blamed for those carbon emissions because wood pellets are not the reason forests wrists are cleared. These are lands that are being harvested for Sawed Timber for housing for paper and for other things what we're taking is is the the byproduct of that in facto independent forestry experts. Say That's not completely true. Their data shows that the wood pellet industry is competing for some of the same. Would that might go for making paper or diapers and it's pushing up prices for that. Would Adam Collette from Dogwood. Alliance thinks it's persuading some small landowners to harvest their trees. You have have more knocks on those doors. More telephone calls saying hey I'll give you X.. Number of dollars for your trees. What Colette wants is for officials to knock on those doors with a different different message encouraging landowners to maintain forests expand them? Our forests are young. They're degraded and what that means. Is that the potential Henschel to suck carbon out of the atmosphere of force in the U._S.. South is enormous. Those forests are some of the best climate solutions. We have he says if they keep growing Dan. Charles N._p._R.

Coming up next