A biomass plant in the California desert.

Greenleaf Power’s Desert View woody-biomass power plant is pictured in Mecca, California.

(Photo: Dicklyon/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Woody Biomass Expansion Threatens Joe Biden’s Environmental Justice Legacy

His continued support for the energy source is unethical and illogical from an economic and health perspective.

Enviva, the world’s largest woody biomass producer, will be placing its largest wood pellet production plant in Epes, Alabama, a remote town where 99% of residents are Black. Woody biomass is the process of burning trees for energy, and Enviva keeps putting woody biomass plants in predominantly Black communities, killing Black people and trees for profit.

As Enviva misleads the public with claims of being good for the planet, the Biden administration watches and supports the development of woody energy. But President Joe Biden should not be supporting woody biomass when it makes no sense economically, environmentally, and socially.

As a false climate solution, particular cases show that woody biomass projects are more destructive to air and water quality than fossil fuels. In the predominantly Black Northampton County of North Carolina, where a prominent woody biomass plant exists, local health assessments show that 60% of residents suffer from high blood pressure, 11% from heart disease, and 10% from asthma.

Woody biomass’s sole purpose is that it is detrimental to the health of trees and Black people, which is not an explanation for its continued use.

Additional scientific studies have shown that woody biomass has the fastest-growing share of premature deaths among all other energy sources at 39-47%. Enviva publicly states that trees as an energy source can be reliable when other renewable energy forms aren’t available. But the truth is that when Enviva burns wood to make woody biomass, it creates 3 times the carbon that natural gas does. The depiction of woody biomass as renewable energy is deceptive, as statistics have only proved otherwise.

President Biden understands the health harms associated with woody biomass. Despite this knowledge, environmental groups still need to lobby the president to avoid future subsidization of woody biomass. However, increased subsidization of woody biomass is unwise because as renewable energy sources like solar and wind have become cheaper, woody biomass hasn’t followed suit.

According to studies by Dominion Energy, Dominion’s least expensive biomass plant was more than double the energy efficiency cost of electricity from utility-scale solar and onshore wind. Additionally, the efficiency of woody biomass is 20%, which is lower than both wind and solar. Combined with the fact that woody biomass has high production costs, woody biomass is an inefficient and costly energy source.

To be sure, trees bring environmental benefits. Trees are the lungs of the Earth, and trees’ absorption of carbon is an effective nature-based carbon solution. They help to protect wildlife and cool the Earth, but they are not energy resources. Chopping trees increases deforestation, and cutting down trees for woody biomass projects reduces their carbon absorption effectiveness. Taking the time to grow new trees when we already have trees exploits nature. Clearing trees is inefficient, and since wind and solar are cost-efficient alternatives, they distract us from putting clean energy on the grid.

As Biden thinks about his support for woody biomass, he must know his legacy hangs in the balance. As the overseer of the Environmental Justice Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Justice40 initiative, his support for woody biomass is self-destructive. Going forward, continued expansion of wind and solar and halting the subsidization of woody biomass is essential. But most importantly, including woody biomass as an enemy of his environmental goals is paramount.

In California, woody biomass releases more carbon during production than coal. To be looped in the same sentence with a toxic energy source like coal is alarming, and the continued support by Biden for woody biomass is unethical and illogical from an economic and health perspective. Woody biomass’s sole purpose is that it is detrimental to the health of trees and Black people, which is not an explanation for its continued use. As a fossil fuel clone, woody biomass projects must end.

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