Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new policy which will classify the burning of wood as a ‘carbon neutral’ fuel source. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled this policy shift to an audience of timber industry leaders in Georgia, who have a vested interest in whether they can market wood-based fuel products as ‘green energy.’ Pruitt supported his decision by claiming that forest regrowth will lead to greater absorption of carbon dioxide and somehow counteract the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation and burning wood. Scientists, none of whom were consulted in this policy change, disagree.
“Today’s announcement grants America’s foresters much-needed certainty and clarity with respect to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass,” Pruitt said in a press release.
A study published by British think-tank Chatham House concluded that when all emissions and carbon absorption is accounted for, harvesting energy from burning wood produces carbon pollution equivalent to that of coal. Further, using this method of energy to create steam may be 50 percent more carbon intensive than coal. Scientist William Moomaw, who focuses on forests and their role in climate change, told Mashable that the policy was announced with “zero consultation” of agency scientists or the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. “It’s a bad idea because anything that has carbon in it produces carbon dioxide when you burn it,” Moomaw said. “This is horrific.”
The EPA’s decision to inaccurately classify burning wood as carbon neutral may have global consequences. “Between this and the Europeans [who constitute the largest market for bioenergy], it means no chance of staying within the 2-degree limit,” Moomaw explained. Even if the forests do grow back to their original state, the damage will already be done. “The carbon dioxide in the air will have warmed the planet. … When the tree regrows, the glacier doesn’t regrow,” Moomaw said. “The climate change effects are irreversible. Carbon neutrality is not climate neutrality.”