April 24, 2018

EPA Falsely Deems Wood Burning for Electricity “Carbon Neutral”

Statement by Peter Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt made yet another anti-scientific decision based on politics yesterday when he announced that the EPA will treat burning wood as carbon neutral when biomass is used to produce energy, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The organization noted that Pruitt’s decree could jumpstart a polluting energy industry.

Below is a statement by Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at UCS.

“Unfortunately, you can’t mandate something to be true that isn’t. Burning forest biomass to make electricity is not inherently carbon neutral, even if Mr. Pruitt declares it so. In fact, under some conditions burning trees releases as much or more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity as coal-fired power plants.

“It takes many decades to a century for a tree to grow large enough to remove the carbon dioxide that was put into the atmosphere by burning a similar tree. And not all trees reach maturity because of drought, fire and insect infestations. All the while, the added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is trapping heat.

“Mr. Pruitt’s decree ignores science to favor another polluting energy industry. Today, the U.S. forest biomass industry is fairly small, with wood energy-fueled power plants struggling to compete with lower-cost power from natural gas, wind and solar. But once federal policies designed to reduce carbon pollution are enacted, the false assumption of wood energy as 'carbon neutral' will help make these power plants more cost-competitive to the detriment of our nation’s forests and the climate.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.