Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DNR Biomass Report to Legislature Challenged by Scientists, Activists

Above: New biomass activist Nate Johnson is interviewed by local reporter Mike Coday.

DNR Biomass Report to Legislature Challenged by Scientists, Activists

by Janine Gates

Biomass activists and some guerrilla theatre came to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today in downtown Olympia. Protesters highlighted a recent letter sent to state legislators by climate scientists refuting DNR's recent biomass report and hoped to personally serve Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark a "cease and desist order" to stop all state biomass projects.

Nate Johnson, who works nearby, came to participate in the protest. He lives in Mason County and said he just became aware of the biomass issue a couple weeks ago when he attended the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency's (ORCAA) hearing on the proposed Adage facility and listened to public testimony for three hours.

"What I learned about the biomass issue convinced me to resist it....the health risks aren't understood...and there's no history of humans showing restraint in using the supply. We're poor stewards of the land. Twenty years from now, I don't think we'll be looking at this as a positive chapter."

Johnson is also a 2002 graduate of The Evergreen State College, and expressed concern about the college's proposed biomass gasification facility.

February is Not For Love Letters: Activists, Scientists Challenge DNR

Duff Badgley, who recently had a biomass opinion piece published in The Seattle Times on February 7, was dressed in a mock-police uniform as an "Earth Cop" to serve Goldmark the "cease and desist" order. Goldmark was unavailable, so the order was delivered to DNR supervisor Leonard Young.

Goldmark, in response to Badgley's editorial, had his own published by the Seattle Times on February 11.

In another war of words, three internationally acclaimed climate scientists have refuted DNR's recent biomass report to the Legislature and policies supported by Washington Governor Gregoire and Goldmark. The letter, written directly to all members of the Washington State Legislature, was not directly addressed to Goldmark or his agency.

At a recent meeting at DNR between DNR representatives and Olympia area anti-biomass activists, key parts of the letter were read to DNR policy director Craig Partridge, who said he was aware of the letter. Partridge welcomed civil dialogue, and said he would speak to Goldmark about their concerns.

Bonnie Phillips, who runs a regional biomass list serv, said her message was simple: carbon neutrality, and concerns about health and fuel supply issues. Partridge agreed with her, saying "those priorities are absolutely on our minds as well, and we probably share a lot of your values and perspectives...."

Activist Pat Rasmussen, in that same meeting, told Partridge, "This is not a movement of environmentalists, it's average, everyday people. It's not the same scenario as a year ago. These are people scared about their health and their children's health...this is a people's movement."

Phillips agreed, saying, "I've been astonished at how people are being educated and educating themselves."

The letter by scientists Mark Harmon, Timothy Searchinger and William Moomaw, in response to DNR's report to the legislature, is available at

Mark Harmon, a professor at Oregon State University who came to The Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia to speak on carbon neutrality last November, is one of the scientists the TESC Sustainability Council hopes to tap to do research into its own biomass gasification feasibility study.

Searchinger is a research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University and Transatlantic Fellow, The German Marshall Fund of the United States. William Moomaw is a professor of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University.

Their letter expresses great concern about the accuracy of DNR's report, strongly challenging DNR's approach to carbon accounting.

"A critical conclusion of the report is that biomass of all kinds, including harvested trees that would otherwise remain standing, should be treated as a "carbon neutral" fuel, an assumption the authors ascribe to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, this conclusion is based on a misinterpretation of IPCC accounting, and is inconsistent with the best science of forest carbon accounting."

The letter also states, "The amount of new biomass generation currently proposed in Washington would amount to less than one percent of the state's electricity generating capacity. Yet even this relatively small amount of power generation seems likely to put new demands on Washington's forests and their delivery of multiple ecosystem services, including timber. This will transfer standing forest carbon into the atmosphere, thereby increasing carbon emissions from Washington's power sector. Simply declaring biomass power to be carbon neutral does not make it so."

Yesterday, at Enviromental Lobby Day in Olympia, Goldmark addressed about 500 people who gathered at a nearby church prior to meeting with their local legislators to speak with them about a variety of environmental issues. In his comments, Goldmark expressed concern about the scale and inefficiency of the proposed Adage biomass facility in Mason County, while also expressing his commitment to biomass.

Taking a glance from the fourth floor at the demonstrators gathered in the DNR lobby today, Bryan Flint, DNR director of communications, commented, "It's democracy in action."

Above: The DNR interior lobby, from the fourth floor.

For more information about biomass issues, see other articles on this blog at

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