Proposed Washington’s biomass incinerators
are bad for forests and climate
Guest columnist Duff Badgley argues that Washington state should stop plans for incinerators that burn biomass, such as waste from logging. By Duff Badgley
Special to The Times
PUBLIC Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark’s enormously destructive biomass policies amount to a war on our forests, our climate, and our lives. Goldmark and industrial-scale burning of biomass, such as forest waste and trees, to produce fuel or energy must be stopped now.
Biomass combustion is neither “clean” nor “green.” Biomass combustion, regardless of technology used, presents lethal dangers to Washington state.
Public outcry against biomass incinerators relentlessly promoted by Goldmark and industry is grabbing headlines in Mason, Thurston, Jefferson and Clallam Counties. The outrage comes as science documents biomass combustion is “dirtier” than coal, stokes climate change, rains toxic pollutants on regional populations and would decimate our forests.
Lawsuits have been filed by citizen and environmental groups to stop three biomass incinerators proposed for the Olympic Peninsula — one of which is a “pilot project” in Port Angeles selected by Goldmark to showcase so-called “green energy.” Another of his pet projects, the biomass incinerator slated for the campus of Evergreen State College in Olympia, has been stymied by a citizen-driven Thurston County moratorium on all types of biomass incinerators.
Goldmark’s latest effort is a scheme to have state agencies and Boeing combine to use Washington forests to make jet fuel. A bill approving this dangerous deal has been introduced by biomass boosters into the current session of the state Legislature. This bill must be derailed before it creates further environmental havoc.
Biomass combustion emits more carbon-dioxide pollution than coal combustion, and twice as much as natural-gas combustion, according to the June, 2010 Manomet study commissioned by the state of Massachusetts. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas causing climate change.
Biomass combustion emits more than twice as much highly toxic particulate matter as coal combustion, and five to 13 times more than natural-gas combustion, according to studies accepted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
This kind of exposure has been linked by the American Lung Association to a lethal brew of diseases and conditions: cancer, cardiopulmonary diseases including heart attacks, strokes, premature death, increased emergency-room visits and hospital admissions, birth defects, abnormal lung development in children, asthma in children.
Biomass projects of all kinds have ravenous appetites for forest wood. One incinerator proposed for Mason County would burn one ton of forest wood each 53 seconds, or 600,000 tons per year. Feeding 22 new biomass incinerators proposed for the state will quickly exhaust supplies of “slash” left after logging, and, if left unchecked, could lead to radically expanded clear-cutting of our forests.
Feeding these incinerators will denude our forests of woody material vital to replenishing forest soil. Feeding all these biomass incinerators will devastate wildlife habitat, increase flooding, and worsen pollution of rivers and streams.
Feeding all these biomass incinerators will emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide, exacerbating climate change.
Goldmark and his Department of Natural Resource minions contend that biomass combustion is somehow “carbon neutral.” Goldmark crazily contends that, since new growing trees recapture the carbon dioxide from burning wood, these emissions simply don’t count as harmful climate pollution.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has debunked Goldmark’s bogus and exceedingly dangerous claim.
The EPA stated in 2009 that reabsorption of carbon emissions from burning wood, or any source, takes centuries and millennia. This means carbon emissions from burning wood accelerate climate change and do not retard it.
It’s past time for Goldmark to embrace the science documenting the extreme dangers from biomass incineration. It’s past time for him and other elected officials to stop reflexively advancing special economic interests like the Washington timber industry — at the expense of the health and lives of ordinary citizens.
Duff Badgley is coordinator for No Biomass Burn, a statewide group fighting biomass incinerators.