Forest industry arguments based on pseudo-science

David Tenny of the powerful National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) and three other forest industry lobbyists recently published a post on The Hill’s Contributors blog (“Congress must act on bioenergy,” July 8) that defies established science and logic. If the legislation they promote were to be signed into law, it would send a terrible signal internationally, just as the U.S. is trying to persuade other countries to protect their forests.

Tenny and his associates claim that they’re just talking about using “leftovers from the manufacturing process — along with wood lost due to insects, disease and fire” as fuel. But if that’s true, why do they need legislation that declares harvesting and burning trees to be carbon neutral?

The fact is, Tenny and his allies are pushing industrial-scale tree-burning to generate electricity. Here’s the language of the House Appropriations bill that Tenny and his associates support and which just elicited a veto threat from the administration: “The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall base agency policies and actions regarding air emissions from forest biomass ... on the principle that forest biomass emissions do not increase overall carbon dioxide accumulations in the atmosphere.”

This “principle” opposes basic laws of physics. Burning adds carbon to the atmosphere. When measured at the smokestack, biomass power plants produce significantly more carbon pollution per megawatt-hour than coal or gas plants, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. Their principle would force the EPA to recognize all forest biomass as carbon-neutral, like wind and solar energy.

In their blog post, the group declares that “biomass powers the growth of our most powerful natural ‘carbon capture’ technology — the American forestland.” But if a forest is cut down and burned, it would no longer be available to act as a carbon pollution sink until and unless it regrows, which can take decades and up to a century. As the global average temperature continues to break new records month after month, how does this make sense?

We’ve asked Tenny previously to provide citations to back up these claims, but so far he has refused.

Basing their arguments on pseudo-science, Tenny and his cohorts are attempting to railroad through legislation that declares tree-burning to be carbon neutral. Their claims shouldn’t be trusted any more than tobacco industry “science.”

From Scott Peterson, executive director, Checks and Balances Project, Arlington, Va.

Emergency funding is a disaster

News that more lawmakers have finally agreed to support the establishment of a fund specifically allocated for critical public health emergencies is good news (“GOP backs new fund for public health,” July 10). When an emergency strikes, we can’t wait for Congress to cobble together the financial resources needed to address a crisis.

As we have seen with the current Zika funding battle and previous tangles over Ebola, passing legislation to fund Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coordination and response can take weeks, if not months. As others have noted, when a hurricane or major Mother Nature-related disaster occurs, FEMA can intervene immediately due to its funding stream. The same can’t be said for public health disasters, which is why an emergency fund similar to the financial resources available to FEMA is so desperately needed. 

This fund would serve as an important first step in preventing similar congressional deadlocks in the future. It would empower public officials to do their jobs and prevent the spread of health threats, whether in the form of viruses or other diseases, without being hamstrung by partisan bickering. We implore lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to take advantage of this rare bipartisan opportunity and work to create an emergency fund without delay. Too many lives potentially hang in the balance.

From Sandra Mullin, senior vice president for policy, advocacy and communication at Vital Strategies, New York, N.Y.