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Posts Tagged ‘burning wood’


Thursday, November 11th, 2010

If you think corn ethanol has become one of the nation’s biggest boondoggles, wait until you see where the Environmental Protection Agency has in store for the nation’s utility industries.
EPA pulled back the curtain yesterday with new rules saying that utilities will be allowed to escape the carbon regulations that begin next January if they switch to burning farm and woodland wastes instead of coal.
“The new guidance allows for the substitution of biomass — wood waste, switchgrass or other agricultural products — for fossil fuels as a way to meet the new air quality rules,” reports The New York Times. “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that would generate new income opportunities for American farmers and forestry companies while reducing global warming emissions.”
It is hard to imagine a more insane energy policy – although it certainly seems plausible that it could happen. Already several utilities around the country have substituted wood wastes for coal under the illusion that they are helping global warming.
The policy will also be sure to “generate new income opportunities for farmers and forestry companies” as farmers forget about feeding people and simply load up their crops for shipment to the nearest power plant. That is what already happens with the nation’s corn crop, where farmers now send 30 percent of their harvest to the nearest ethanol distillery, driving up food prices around the world. The UN Food and Agricultural Organizations regularly calls biofuels “a crime against humanity,” but nobody in this country pays much attention.
Biofuels in power plants will double down on this tortured policy. Massachusetts has already backed away from a wood-burning mandate after realizing that wood wastes are nowhere near adequate and that people will soon be chopping down the state’s forests to feed the power plants. The administration of Democratic Governor Deval Patrick came after a study by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found burning wood would actually produce more greenhouse gases than burning coal.

It’s not hard to see out why. Wood has only half the energy density of coal and is widely scattered across the landscape so it requires much more energy to gather and harvest. A landmark study published in Science in 2008 found that substituting biofuels for fossil fuels does not become “carbon neutral” for 90 years. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee calls biofuels “a controlled bonfire.”
Nevertheless, based on scuttlebutt from the environmental community, the Obama Administration is charging ahead. In doing so, they will be following in the footsteps of General Jubilation T. Cornpone, of “Li’l Abner” fame, of whom it was sung: 
“With out ammunition gone and facing utter defeat,
Who was it who burned the crops so we had nothing to eat.”
Someday the Administration may want to erect a statue of General Cornpone in front of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Read more at the New York Times’ Green blog