Sierra Club: Capitalizing on Disaster

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Capitalizing on Disaster: Why Recent State Legislation and Subsidies for Biomass Electric Generation are Very Bad Ideas 

Green Diamond Resources (formerly Simpson Timber) is converting the North Coast forests it controls (this one is in Redwood Creek) into tree plantations. That increases the fire risk to nearby towns, including Hoopa, Weitchpec, Klamath and Trinidad. Photo: Felice Pace.
Green Diamond Resources (formerly Simpson Timber) is converting the North Coast forests it controls (this one is in Redwood Creek) into tree plantations. That increases the fire risk to nearby towns, including Hoopa, Weitchpec, Klamath and Trinidad. Photo: Felice Pace.

In the wake of wildfires that caused terrible devastation when they entered Northern California towns, politicians are ignoring the facts and using the disasters to push “solutions” that will only increase fire risks. While some communities are bordered by forests, most fires which threaten western towns and cities come from shrublands and woodlands with few trees, not from forests. But that has not stopped President Trump from blaming “poor forest management” for the devastation communities have experienced, even as his administration pushes the Forest Service to convert more natural forest to highly flammable tree plantations.

Trump is not the only politician using the fire disasters to push logging-related agendas. North Coast state representatives Mike McGuire and Jim Wood helped get SB 901 passed by the California legislature. Signed into law by Governor Brown, SB 901 allows some landowners to log and construct logging roads without notice or review by Regional Water Boards and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Because younger forests and tree plantations burn hotter as compared to older and natural forests, AB 901 will actually lead to more fire risk as older forests are replaced by younger, more flammable forests and tree plantations.

Another industry capitalizing on the public’s fear of wildfire is the biomass industry. Biomass electricity generation can not compete with cleaner forms of electric generation like natural gas, solar and wind. In order to survive, the biomass industry requires government subsidies paid for by taxpayers. Unfortunately, California politicians appear eager to subsidize this dirty form of electricity generation. Both SB 901, and the earlier SB 859, mandate taxpayer-financed subsidies to the biomass industry.

Why biomass is the wrong choice

Biomass is the wrong choice for California for two reasons: First, in California’s interior valleys, winter inversions trap air near the ground. When biomass plants are located in these valleys, and many are, already poor winter air quality is rendered much worse. The resulting health impacts are significant. In addition, home woodstove use is curtailed during bad air days in order to allow biomass generation to continue. Curtailing home wood burning more heavily impacts low income residents who rely on wood heat.

When used for biomass electric generation, tree plantations are typically harvested every 30 to 50 years, guaranteeing that enhanced fire risk is sustained over time. And because biomass plants pull fuel only from nearby forests, the enhanced risk is located where it can do the most damage, that is, close to rural towns and cities.

Sierra Club California is looking out for the health of rural residents

While some major environmental organizations support subsidies for the biomass industry, Sierra Club California opposes them. It is working to educate state lawmakers and others about the problems biomass electricity generation creates and why it is not a good, sustainable solution for electricity generation. You can learn more from Sierra Club California’s fact sheets at this link: Read Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips’ “Letter from Sacramento” about attempts by the Biomass Industry and California politicians to use the recent fires to leverage more subsidies for biomass electricity generation here:

Because North Coast Senator Mike McGuire and North Coast Assembly Member Jim Wood supported logging without review and biomass subsidies, they need to hear from constituents who object to unregulated logging and dirty power.  Please tell McGuire and Wood that SB 901 will increase fire risk and damage our watersheds. Remind them that biomass creates massive greenhouse gas emissions, threatens the health of residents living near the plants and increases fire risk by encouraging conversion of naturally diverse forests to single-tree plantations managed on short rotations. Let these politicians know that you do not want them to promote plantation forestry which poses the greatest risk for forest catastrophic fire effects. Here’s how to contact them:

• Contact Senator McGuire via email at, or by calling his Sacramento office: 916-651-4002.

• Contact Assembly Member Wood via web form at or by calling his office: 916 319-2002.


Saturday, December 8—North Group. Humboldt Redwoods State Park Centennial Hike. Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the establishment of Save the Redwoods League and Humboldt Redwoods State Park as we hike Dyerville, Bull Creek flats, and the historic Women’s Federation Grove. Bring lunch and water. No dogs. Medium difficulty, eight miles. Contact leader Ned 707-825-3652 or for carpool and other information.