Exploring the industrial biomass industry (1)

Dogwood Alliance Athens Campaign Launched in Wake of Georgia Wood Pellet Facilities Proposal 

BY Clint Owens

Part I. Dogwood Alliance

In late 2016 Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville, North Carolina-based environmental nonprofit, launched the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel Campaign in Athens, Georgia.  This campaign seeks to prevent the destruction of Southern forests as a result of the industrial scale biomass industry and wood pellet production.

According to Allie Halbert, the Athens organizer for Our Forests Aren’t Fuel, three wood pellet facilities have been proposed in Madison, Jackson and Franklin counties.

Halbert said that in addition to damaging the local ecosystem, wood pellet manufacturing generates an airborne dust that can be linked to asthma, increases in heart attacks and strokes in the communities near these facilities.

According to Emily Zucchino, Community Network Manager for the Asheville office of Dogwood Alliance, many Southern communities are concerned about the impacts of industrial logging on Southern forests and want to move forward toward forest protection.

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Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens GA. Photo/Clint Owens

According to Dogwood Alliance, the Southern United States accounts for four times as much logging as takes place in Brazilian rainforests. This can negatively impact the unique flora and fauna present in these ecosystems.

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“Overall, what we’ve seen, from the science on this issue, from the community groups that we work with, is that the industrial scale biomass industry is bad for our forests, it’s bad for the climate and it’s bad for out communities,” Zucchino said.

Zucchino said that in addition to the health concerns of wood pellet manufacturing, these facilities can present numerous other challenges for Southern communities.

“The concerns that the people in these communities have, in addition to the health concerns, are often things like economics,” Zucchino said.

Installation of wood pellet manufacturing plants can impact the value of local real estate, potential tourism value and, according to Zucchino, exacerbate poor living conditions that are already present due to other industrial manufacturing.

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“The variety of ecosystems found in Southern forests provides the basis for the entire web of life that supports us.”

– Dogwood Alliance

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“It’s part of the overall narrative of industrial extractive industries locating in poor communities and communities of color, and I think that’s absolutely what we’ve seen with the wood pellet industry,” Zucchino said.

Halbert said that although many of the forests in Europe are highly protected, wooden biomass is still considered by policymakers as renewable bioenergy.

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Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens GA. Photo/Clint Owens

According to an academic journal published by the University of Florida (UFL), bottomland hardwood forests are highly variable in regard to soil type, water availability and climate. These areas are among the most affected by targeting in the industrial biomass industry and paper making.

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Essentially what’s been going on is they passed a policy to increase the amount of renewable energy that they were using and decrease the amount of carbon emissions that they were putting out into the air,” Halbert said.

Much of the sourcing of wood from Southern forests is a result of European policy, and outsourcing for wood from the United States.  Zucchino said that now Southern forests are being targeted specifically for bottomland hardwoods, which until recently have remained an “untapped market.”

“These are some of the most ecologically important ecosystems that we have here in our Southern forests, and while they’re not the only tree system being targeted by the wood pellet industry, they are being sourced from to create these wood pellets,” Zucchino said.

According to the Dogwood Alliance online campaign, in addition to providing a habitat for unique flora and fauna and “250 species of mammals, 600 species of birds and 350 species of reptiles and amphibians,” Southern forests consume carbon roughly equal to 75% of that which is produced by all cars on US roads.  Destroying these trees not only impacts the web of life but also limits our supply of breathable air.

According to Halbert, Our Forests Aren’t Fuel continues to fight against “false green energy” and to protect these unique ecosystems. In her role as Athens organizer she engages in things like collecting petition signatures and talking to different student groups and community groups, in order to spread the word to show county commissioners that wood pellet manufacturing is not an industry that groups like Dogwood Alliance want to see in the area.

“The job I’m doing here is really gathering that grassroots power, that grassroots action, talking to folks all around the Athens community about the industrial scale biomass industry in our community,” Halbert said.

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Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens GA. Photo/Clint Owens

According to Dogwood Alliance, and the Stand4Forests campaign, standing forests are an essential component to maintaining clean water and air. These ecosystems can help protect against natural disasters such as flooding. In addition, removing these hardwoods can lead to a “degraded infrastructure and limited resources” in communities relying on these forests’ resources.

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