The good news is that the Obama administration is well on its way to addressing the complex issue of climate change. President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan is expected to be released by the EPA in the summer of 2015.
The plan establishes carbon emission goals for the states to meet. Basically, it cuts emissions generated from electricity production by 30% by 2030. Each state is allowed to use “building blocks” as the Union of Concerned Scientists explains:
Renewable energy resources account for one of the building blocks, alongside nuclear power, efficiency improvements at individual fossil fuel plants, shifting generation from coal to natural gas, and greater energy efficiency in buildings and industries.
This initiative is one of the most extensive attempts by the U.S. government to face climate change in years. It is targeting coal burning, one of the most polluting sources of energy. That has caused considerable consternation in coal-producing regions like West Virginia.
However, there is disconcerting news deep in the Clean Power Plan. The options for less conventional sources that can also be used to reduce coal burning includes biomass, and the bioenergy that would develop from using it. Bioenergy can come from a range of sources, including compost to corn.
One of the primary sources is trees. The Obama administration appears willing to adopt the notion that trees can be harvested for fuel as an alternative to coal. Specifically, the plan will allow forest and farm products to be considered carbon free. Anyone who has gone through the first week of a high school chemistry class knows that calling forest and farm products carbon free is a fat and wide lie.
The Clean Power Plan is still in the public comment stage so it may be changed before it becomes final. The idea that forests could be viewed as a clean energy source that won’t hurt the environment is wrong in the carbon it would emit, removal of trees to process the carbon back to oxygen and disruption of natural habitats beginning to face stress from climate change.
Even more disturbing is that Obama’s plan could come close to doubling the annual wood harvest in the United States. Politico reports:
Princeton University researcher Tim Searchinger has calculated that if government electricity forecasts are correct, treating biomass as carbon-neutral would produce a 70 percent increase in the U.S. wood harvest, consuming more than four times as many trees as Americans save through paper recycling programs.
It appears that the forest industry has successfully lobbied the Obama administration to accept their energy as sustainable, even though it would trash paper recycling programs and spew needless carbon into the air. More trees are being planted every year than are being cut. That means our forests are growing in size. The forest industry is arguing that point as why sustainably managed forests are carbon neutral.
It appears that the Obama administration, in a quickening effort to reduce coal, is ready to trade off anything, including common sense.
By not expanding bioenergy production, the Clean Power Plan’s electricity would have to be produced by alternatives to most fossil fuels, such as nuclear or solar. That should be a simple solution where the forests can continue to operate as a sink for carbon emissions and not a contributor. Instead, we are on the edge of missing an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions even further. It makes no sense, and we can only hope this foolish idea is absent from the final plan.