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RELEASE: Environmental and Social Justice Groups Call for Biofuels to be Eliminated from the AHA

Proposed legislation would incentivize false climate solutions like biomass electricity and heating

Logging devastation in the Green Mountain National Forest of Vermont.
Clearcut in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest, where wood is often harvested for burning in biomass electricity power plants.

For Immediate Release: Friday, April 7, 2023


Contact:

- Chris Gish (802) 683-8913

stopvtbiomass@gmail.com

- Zack Porter (802) 552-0160

zporter@standingtrees.org


MONTPELIER, VT - Grassroots social and environmental justice groups, and concerned Vermonters, urged the House Committee on Environment and Energy to eliminate the eligibility of all biofuels for clean heat credits under the Affordable Heat Act (AHA). On Thursday afternoon, 30 community organizations and over 190 individuals submitted a letter to the Committee, as well as the governor and all members of the House and Senate, laying out detailed reasons why biofuels would not help Vermont reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and why current language in the AHA is not adequate to ensure that polluting heat sources are excluded from credits.


Biomass, liquid biofuels, and renewable natural gas (collectively known as ‘biofuels’) are false climate solutions that have been shown to increase greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil alternatives. Fuels like wood emit more carbon dioxide per unit energy than all fossil fuels, and the production of biofuels causes forest degradation and deforestation, harming one of the world’s most important carbon sinks.


“All biofuels are a climate disaster. We can’t be investing in the switch from one polluting fuel to another. We need real climate solutions like weatherization, energy conservation, solar and geothermal,” said Ashley Adams of Burlington, a member of Stop VT Biomass.


In a statement on behalf of Upper Valley Affinity Group, Geoff Gardner explained that “one of the worst provisions of the badly flawed Affordable Heat Act is its emphasis on burning liquid biofuels, biomass and ‘renewable’ natural gas as pathways to reducing GHG emissions. The emissions, biodiversity and health consequences of all these fuels are at least as harmful as the consequences of continued reliance on fossil fuels. The place of these fuels in this bill continues two of the driving myths that have kept Vermont from making truly substantial progress toward climate mitigation and optimum preservation of our forests, fields, water and air. It is simply and demonstrably false that just because a fuel is in some sense renewable it will produce lower GHG emissions than even the worst fossil fuels. It’s no less false that it’s either reasonable or necessary to endanger biodiversity for the sake of achieving emissions reductions whether they’re either real or flat-out illusory.”


The sign on letter presents a host of damaging social and ecological consequences that would come with the use of biofuels, including the degradation and destruction of forests, biodiversity loss, threats to clean water, human health impacts, and the diversion of funds that could be used to permanently lower heating costs through weatherization or electrification.


“Forests are Vermont’s most important carbon sink, protect water supplies, and safeguard biodiversity,” emphasized Zack Porter, Executive Director of Standing Trees. “We should not incentivize cutting them for inefficient energy production that threatens air quality in our communities.”


While the current version of the Affordable Heat Act includes a cap on carbon intensity values that some say would limit biofuels to only the cleanest sources, signatories of the letter were clear that the current guardrails in the bill are not enough to ensure that clean heat credits are actually low carbon.


“The carbon intensity caps don’t come close to addressing the harms of biofuels,” said Chris Gish, member of Stop VT Biomass. “They are far too lenient, don’t include wood, and can even be waived after 2030. And with the Seneca Meadows case, the PUC has already shown they will accept wildly inaccurate emissions estimates for biofuels.”


Ecologist Cheryl Joy Lipton, a member of 350VT, Standing Trees, and Stop VT Biomass, emphasized that Vermont is ignoring its own recommendations by including biomass and other biofuels in the AHA. “The Agriculture and Ecosystems subcommittee and the Biomass Task Group, both part of the Vermont Climate Council, deliberated on biomass use,” she said. “Those two entities, separately and at different times, came up with recommendations to end use of biomass - to phase it out, not ramp it up. Biomass burning will exacerbate the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.”


Signatories including Building a Local Economy (BALE Vermont), Rural Vermont, and Lake Champlain International also urged Vermont to account for biogenic and full lifecycle emissions in all state climate policy. Currently, the AHA does ask the PUC to include biogenic and lifecycle emissions, but most other policy, including the Greenhouse Gas Inventory, Pathways 2.0 study and MACC analysis that the AHA is based on, do not account for biogenic emissions, a contradiction that could be resolved by including biogenic and lifecycle emissions in all accounting.


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About Stop VT Biomass. Stop VT Biomass is a newly organized network of organizations and concerned citizens fighting to keep forests ecosystems healthy and combustion-based technologies out of Vermont climate policy.


About Standing Trees. Based in Montpelier, VT, Standing Trees is a community of forest defenders working to protect and restore New England’s public lands.


Additional Resources

  • Buchholz, T. A., Hurteau, M. D., Gunn, J., & Saah, D. (2016). A global meta-analysis of forest bioenergy greenhouse gas emission accounting studies. GCB Bioenergy, 8(2), 281–289. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcbb.12245

  • Fairley, P. (2022, December 13). The New Era of Biofuels Raises Environmental Concerns. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-new-era-of-biofuels-raises-environmental-concerns/

  • Gunn, J. S., Moomaw, W. R., & Duffy, P. (2018). Scientific Evidence Does Not Support the Carbon Neutrality of Woody Biomass Energy. In www.sig-nal.org (No. 2018–01). Spatial Informatics Group - Natural Asset Laboratory. https://www.sig-nal.org/_files/ugd/f5c52e_a51f246c8a854cf594ce47e6d05d9616.pdf

  • Hill, D. G., Bourguet, E., Binnington, T., & Pradhan, S. (2022). Marginal Abatement Cost Curves: Examining the Mitigation Potential and Cost per Tonne of Emissions Reductions of Measures in the Vermont Pathways Analysis. Energy Futures Group. https://energyfuturesgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/MAC-Curve-Deliverable-Memo-Clean-Version-submitted-to-ANR-9-28-22.pdf

  • Hill, J. (2022). The sobering truth about corn ethanol. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119(11). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2200997119

  • Howarth, R. W., Ph. D. (2023, February 8). Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, Vermont State Senate: Testimony. https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2024/WorkGroups/Senate%20Natural%20Resources/Bills/S.5/Witness%20Documents/S.5~Robert%20Howarth~Environmental%20Science%20Testimony~2-8-2023.pdf

  • Narayanan, R. (2022, November 9). The Truth about Biofuels. Conservation Law Foundation. https://www.clf.org/blog/the-truth-about-biofuels/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw27mhBhC9ARIsAIFsETE6jq7EdpgBAB1aiNFD0p0480rcdX7gG2zjjKOvJ1mYLRtpN2xA20IaAvPREALw_wcB

  • Scherer, G. (2023, March 20). A liquid biofuels primer: Carbon-cutting hopes vs. real-world impacts. Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2023/03/a-liquid-biofuels-primer-carbon-cutting-hopes-vs-real-world-impacts/

  • Searchinger, T., Hamburg, S. P., Melillo, J. M., Chameides, W. L., Havlik, P., Kammen, D. M., Likens, G. E., Lubowski, R. N., Obersteiner, M., Oppenheimer, M., Robertson, G. P., Schlesinger, W. H., & Tilman, G. D. (2009). Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error. Science, 326(5952), 527–528. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1178797

  • Sterman, J. D., Moomaw, W. R., Rooney-Varga, J. N., & Siegel, L. S. (2022). Does wood bioenergy help or harm the climate? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 78(3), 128–138. https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2022.2062933

  • Vermont Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and Forecast: 1990 – 2017. (2021). Air Quality and Climate Division, Department of Environmental Quality, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. https://dec.vermont.gov/sites/dec/files/aqc/climate-change/documents/_Vermont_Greenhouse_Gas_Emissions_Inventory_Update_1990-2017_Final.pdf

  • Vermont Pathways Analysis Report 2.0. (2022). The Cadmus Group & Energy Futures Group. https://energyfuturesgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Pathways-Analysis-Report_Version-2.0.pdf


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