For Immediate Release, September 24, 2020


Lauren Packard, Center for Biological Diversity, (650) 303-5645,
Nayamin Martinez, Central California Environmental Justice Network, (559) 907-2047,
Catherine Garoupa White, Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, (559) 232-1698,
Chad Hanson, John Muir Project, (530) 273-9290,
Rick Halsey, California Chaparral Institute, (760) 419-5760,

Legal Petition Seeks to Close California Forest Carbon Loophole

Burning Trees for Energy Is False Solution, Fuels Climate Crisis

SAN FRANCISCO— Conservation and environmental justice groups filed a legal petition today that demands the California Public Utilities Commission stop letting carbon-polluting biomass projects take advantage of programs meant to benefit clean energy.

Today’s petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, California Chaparral Institute and John Muir Project calls on the commission to require that woody biomass energy projects demonstrate they are carbon neutral or better before they get special ratepayer subsidies.

“Woody biomass energy is a false solution that worsens climate change and air quality and harms wildlife,” said Lauren Packard, the Center attorney who authored the petition. “The idea that incinerating trees is good for the environment and public health is utterly absurd. Woody biomass energy is also extremely expensive, and through these ratepayer subsidies, the costs get passed on to consumers.”

Like coal and oil, biomass is a carbon-burning form of energy production that emits carbon dioxide. In fact biomass power plants are California’s dirtiest electricity source — releasing more carbon at the smokestack than coal.

“Biomass power plants emit massive amounts of soot and other toxins that cause and worsen respiratory ailments, heart problems and other diseases,” said Nayamin Martinez, director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “It’s morally reprehensible that these facilities are often sited in poor, primarily minority communities already choked with air pollution, as is the case in the unincorporated community of Malaga in Fresno County.”

“Dirty biomass energy has no place in California’s clean energy portfolio,” said Dr. Catherine Garoupa White, executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. “It’s appalling that the commission is not only failing to protect communities from harmful air pollution, it’s actively incentivizing more.”

Cutting trees for biomass energy also hurts forest ecosystems and reduces the forest’s ability to sequester and store carbon.

“Trees in all stages of the life cycle are essential for healthy forest habitat and for keeping climate-harming carbon out of the air,” said Rick Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute. “Logging in the middle of forests simply doesn’t keep communities safe.”

“Woody biomass energy is even worse than coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions for equal energy produced,” said Dr. Chad Hanson, forest and fire ecologist with the John Muir Project. “It’s a climate change nightmare.”

To become eligible for the Bioenergy Market Adjusting Tariff and the Bioenergy Renewable Auction Mechanism, projects should be required to show they are carbon neutral or better using a commission-approved lifecycle greenhouse gas assessment model, today’s petition urges.

“The commission had an opportunity to align these programs with California’s clean energy goals, but unfortunately decided not to do so,” said Packard. “We urge it to make decisions using sound science instead of relying on the misguided assumption that biomass energy is good for the climate.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Central California Environmental Justice Network has been promoting environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley since 2000. Our mission is to preserve our natural resources by seeking to minimize or eliminate environmental degradation in the San Joaquin Valley. CCEJN focuses on advancing community resilience in disadvantaged communities by increasing the level of recognition of adverse health effects caused by pollution and serving as a hub for environmental activism in the Central Valley.

The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition fights for clean air for the San Joaquin Valley, the nation’s most polluted air basin. Its mission is to raise awareness of air quality issues, act as a watchdog, advocate for policies that advance clean air, and mobilize communities.

The John Muir Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the ecological management of our federal public forestlands to support and restore the full complement of native biodiversity in these forest ecosystems, which have been severely damaged by commercial logging and wildfire suppression.

The California Chaparral Institute is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving invaluable chaparral ecosystems. It advocates for and promotes fire risk reduction based on science and community protection.