Thursday, May 27, 2010

Scientists to Congress: Don't Cook the Books on CO2 Emissions from Bioenergy

This week, ninety of America's leading scientists delivered a letter urging U.S. House and Senate leaders to make sure that any climate/energy bill or regulation accurately accounts for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when it comes to bioenergy.

According to the scientists, what the United States decides to do in terms of accounting for bioenergy will have major repercussions around the globe. "U.S. laws will also influence world treatment of bioenergy. A number of studies in distinguished journals have estimated that globally improper accounting of bioenergy could lead to large-scale clearing of the world's forests."

Specifically, the incorporation of the latest science into national and product-based carbon accounting could have big implications on the paper industry. This is evidenced by the strategically crafted response by AF&PA CEO Donna Harmon to the US EPA's recent ruling that it would not automatically treat biogenic carbon sources as "carbon neutral." Unfortunately, the industry is doing the equivalent of arguing against the existence of gravity, because the science is more and more clear, and the myth is gradually being dispelled of the inherent "carbon neutrality" of burning biomass energy and of status-quo forestry.

The letter from the scientists cautions decision makers about the basic mistake that biomass is "carbon neutral," explaining: "Clearing or cutting forests for energy, either to burn trees directly in power plants or to replace forests with bioenergy crops, has the net effect of releasing otherwise sequestered carbon into the atmosphere, just like the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. That creates a carbon debt, may reduce ongoing carbon uptake by the forest, and as a result may increase net greenhouse gas emissions for an extended time period and thereby undercut greenhouse gas reductions needed over the next several decades."

Burning wood waste for energy will continue to be a part of the comprehensive solution at pulp and paper mills into the future, and the industry is noteworthy in its efficient use of this material. Its clearly not the goal of these scientists or outspoken conservationists to eliminate this practice, but the critical issue is that we have to follow the science and count it correctly, in order to arrive at optimal public policy decisions and useful product carbon footprinting comparisions that help consumers make responsible choices.

For the full list of the 90 scientists and the text of the joint letter, go to

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