A new bill proposed by Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) would give the timber industry carbon credit for cutting down old growth forests and turning them into toothpicks, chopsticks, desks, plywood, sofas, pencils, and other wood products – and throw in billions of dollars on top of that to incentivize spraying of pesticides, oil production, and coal mining.
Despite these drawbacks, the bill, entitled The Clean Energy Partnerships Act (S. 2729), does contain some strong environmental provisions – like incentives for organic agriculture and assurances that farmers, foresters and conservationists who’ve taken early action to reduce climate pollution don’t get their funding cut off.
But these gains could easily be undermined by the bill’s kitchen-sink approach to offering offset credits, as well as its total exclusion of the rigorous scientific, environmental, and social standards for crediting that are contained in the Kerry-Boxer and Waxman-Markey legislation. These key standards include protections for biodiversity and use of native, non-invasive species in forestry activities. Unless the authors of the overall climate bill take a critical look at Stabenow’s provisions, instead of just swallowing them whole, they risk significantly undermining the integrirty and aims of the overall legislation.
The bulk of the problems in Stabenow’s bill comes from the list of activities that would be eligible for lucrative offset credit. Many of these activities are already included in the Kerry-Boxer legislation, but with a critical difference: Kerry-Boxer recommends them for consideration by an Advisory Board and the president, whereas as the Stabenow bill requires their initial inclusion.
Particularly worrying is the mandate for crediting:
forest management resulting in an increase in forest carbon stores, including harvested wood products.
The theory here, long pushed by the timber industry, is that sofas, desks, baseball bats, yachts and other “harvested wood products” store the carbon that was once in trees – and they should get paid for transfering carbon from storage in a tree to storage in a 2 X 4.
Unfortunately, they neglect to mention that creating wood products requires an extraordinary amount of energy – everything from driving trucks into a forest, running chainsaws, trucking the logs back out of the forest, cutting and processing them (the biggest energy expenditure), dousing them with veneer and other energy-intensive chemicals, shipping them to a store and then getting them to a customer’s house – or into your Chinese food delivery bag. They also don’t usually highlight how much wood is lost in the shipping and manufacture process, or the degree of decay that occurs in landfills. The Wilderness Society’s Ann Ingerson did a comprehensive analysis of carbon storage in wood, “Wood Products and Carbon Storage: Can Increased Production Help Solve the Climate Crisis?” and found that in many cases, the emissions required to produce a piece of finished wood far exceeds the carbon stored in it – though that’s just one of the ways in which logging and manufacture of wood products produces emissions.
The industry also neglects to remind Members of Congress that they already get paid for selling wood products, and don’t exactly need subsidies to cut down trees. Read more