Our Forests Aren’t Fuel

The Dogwood Alliance is a non-profit based in Asheville, NC whose mission is to protect forests in the Southeast and end unsustainable forestry practices.  They have recently begun the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel campaign in Athens focusing on stopping the use of Southern forests for biomass energy.  Athens for Everyone supports the Dogwood Alliance and we asked them to bring us up to speed on the risks that this industry poses us:

Our communities and forests are at risk. Across the Southern US, forests are being clear cut, turned into wood pellets, and burned for energy. The industrial scale biomass industry has three facilities proposed right here in the Athens area. This industry is bad for the environment, bad for forests, and bad for our community.

The industrial scale biomass industry has devastating environmental impacts, plummeting us at a faster rate into the negative effects of climate change. This industry is even worse for the environment than burning coal. Trees contain less potential energy compared to coal and other fossil fuels, meaning many more trees would need to be cut down and burned to produce the same amount of energy. Thus at the point of combustion, wood pellets are worse than coal. Additionally, forests are carbon sinks, meaning they absorb the carbon that’s in the air. When we cut down our forests, we not only let all that carbon back into the atmosphere, we also are losing our best defenders against climate change. That’s right – this pseudo “green energy” isn’t so green after all.

When our forests hurt, our communities hurt. The industrial scale biomass industry has serious implications on the overall well-being of our citizens. Wood pellet facilities have been linked to cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and birth defects. In communities with wood pellet facilities, there has also been increases in emergency room visits for asthma attacks, as well as an increase in childhood asthma attacks. Even organizations such as the American Lung Association have come out against the woody biomass industry. In order to protect public health, we must stop these facilities from infiltrating our community.

The industrial scale biomass industry claims to bring in economic surplus for the communities they occupy. We’ve seen a different story on the ground. First, this industry often receives large incentives and subsidies (your taxpayer dollars!) to move into rural communities. When these incentives are set against the tax benefits the industry provides, it doesn’t leave much for the local bank account. Additionally, this is a boom and bust industry –  meaning this is a short term industry in these communities that will require a huge investment and no long–term benefit. Finally, we see continued economic hardship from the extra tractor trailers on the road. The biomass industry brings in an additional 200 trucks a day driving on these rural roads in and out of the facilities. The wear and tear on the roads is covered in taxpayer money.

With three of these facilities proposed in the Athens area alone (Jackson, Madison, and Franklin counties), this issue hits close to home. We must prevent the industrial-scale biomass industry from moving in, and work for true green energy and economic development that values our environment and our communities.

Allie Halbert
Community Organizer
Our Forests Aren’t Fuel Athens

Interested in learning more and getting more involved? Check out the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel Facebook group, or email allie@dogwoodalliance.org to learn more.

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