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Partnership For Policy Integrity

MA House Climate Bill Would Promote Biomass Power Plants as “Non-Carbon Emitting Sources”

Published September 3, 2020

In the closing days of July, the Massachusetts House of Representatives rushed through language in its 2050 Climate Roadmap Bill – a broad package of climate proposals – that defines biomass power plants as “non-carbon emitting energy” sources. A conference committee with three members each from the House and Senate will decide the ultimate fate of this legislation this fall. PFPI and environmental justice advocates in Springfield, MA and across the state are urging the conference committee to reject this language.

Specifically, Section 15 of H.4933 creates a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standard for municipally owned electric utilities in MA, known as municipal light plants (MLPs). MLPs are exempt from many of the standards that apply to investor-owned utilities, like National Grid and Eversource, so this provision on its surface appears to be a step forward in reducing GHG emissions from the power sector. The problem, however, lies in the definition of “non-carbon emitting energy. Read more here

New Report Reveals Negative Community and Financial Impacts of Bioenergy Boom

Published October 24, 2018

The Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) released a report today examining problems and impacts of biomass power plants built in recent years. The release coincides with “National Bioenergy Day,” in which the biomass power industry typically touts bioenergy as providing benefits to localities.  The report, The Bioenergy Boom from the Federal Stimulus: Outcomes and Lessons, provides a reality check for policymakers considering biomass power as a way to increase renewable energy generation.

PFPI studied the fate of 25 biomass power plants that received at least $10 million dollars in federal stimulus funding between 2009 and 2014. The report documents problems that have plagued these plants and led in many cases to cost overruns, air and water violations, early closures, lawsuits, and inflated costs for taxpayers and ratepayers. Read more here

Bio-Beware: PFPI, Investors Petition SEC to Crack Down on Biomass Climate Claims

Published February 27, 2019

In the face of unprecedented amounts of investments flowing into sustainable equity funds, the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) and more than two dozen investment organizations today petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require companies making and using biomass, wood pellets, biochar, ethanol, and other bio-based products to substantiate their claims of climate benefits so that investors will not be misled.

It is common for companies producing biomass fuels and energy to claim their products are “low carbon” or “carbon neutral,” although in reality, they can have greater carbon emissions than fossil fuels.  PFPI and the 27 investment groups, which manage billions of dollars in assets, are asking the SEC to issue guidance providing that companies must make accurate and consistent disclosures of biogenic greenhouse gas emissions so that investors will be protected from misleading claims and can make informed decisions about whether products have actual climate benefits. Read more here

EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy: Burning Trees Isn’t Green

Published March 9, 2020

In a rebuke to the European Union’s increasing reliance on burning forest wood for renewable energy, a group of technical experts has recommended limiting biomass that can qualify under the EU’s new Sustainable Finance Taxonomy to a subset of mostly waste-derived biomass fuels, rather than the unlimited use of trees allowed under the EU’s renewable energy law. The European Commission now has to decide whether to accept the recommendations, which will be used as screening criteria for “green” investments of hundreds of billions of euros in the coming years.

The EU treats burning trees for heat and power as zero-carbon, fully renewable energy in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which specifies the technologies that member states can subsidize and count toward renewable energy targets. However as eminent scientists have made clear, burning wood for energy can increase emissions for decades to centuries even compared to coal, because biomass power plants emit more greenhouse gases per unit energy than fossil-fueled plants, and because trees take a long time to grow back. Wood burned in the EU is increasingly made up of wood pellets and other wood fuels sourced by clear-cutting forests, and The European Academies Science Advisory Council itself has warned that harvesting trees for energy is harming forests and undermining efforts to control global warming. Read more here

“Paper Tiger” Report Shows New EU Biomass Rules Greenlight Increased Forest Destruction

A new report by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), Paper Tiger: Why the RED II biomass sustainability criteria fail forests and the climate, provides a scientific and legal analysis of why “sustainability” protections in the EU’s recast Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) provide cover for continued logging, GHG emissions, and forest damage from biomass harvesting. The report expands on the core arguments in the EU Biomass Case brought against the EU Council and Parliament March 4, 2019, that challenged inclusion of forest biomass for renewable energy in the RED II. The case was rejected without a hearing on May 6, 2020, on grounds that the applicants did not have standing to sue. Barristers who brought the case filed an appeal of the standing decision on July 2.

Mary S. Booth, director of PFPI, was science advisor on the legal case and authored the report. “Policymakers claim the sustainability criteria in the RED II are protective, but in reality the provisions are a complicated web of words that will do nothing to stop the most damaging biomass practices that are ongoing today. Even if the criteria had any teeth, they would have little effect, as the RED II exempts the overwhelming majority of biomass burned in the EU from meeting the criteria.” Read more here

You can find a list of further resources from Partnership For Policy Integrity (PFPI) here

Health Groups to Congress: Burning Biomass is Bad for Health

Published September 14, 2016

The environmental impacts of burning biomass for electricity are well documented. When power plants use biomass as fuel—in particular biomass that comes from forests—they can increase carbon emissions compared to coal and other fossil fuels for decades. The biomass industry also imperils some of our most precious forests. But this week, it’s the medical and public health community that’s speaking out about the ills of biopower. In a powerful new letter signed by the Allergy & Asthma Network, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, National Association of County & City Health Officials, National Environmental Health Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility, the health community’s message is clear:

“Biomass is far from “clean” – burning biomass creates air pollution that causes a sweeping array of health harms, from asthma attacks to cancer to heart attacks, resulting in emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and premature deaths.”

Read more here