California Board Endorses Forest Clearcutting in Fight Against Global Warming

SACRAMENTO, CA: A cap-and-trade program approved Thursday by the California Air Resources Board includes damaging loopholes that would incentivize clearcutting in the name of reducing carbon emissions. The program — adopted as part of California’s effort to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions — would allow industrial polluters to purchase carbon “offset credits” instead of reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions. Among the options is buying offset credits from forest clearcutting.

“Clearcutting forests is not the solution to global warming,” said Brian Nowicki, California climate policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Including forest clearcutting not only threatens forest ecosystems and important wildlife habitat, but the integrity of California’s cap-and-trade program as a whole.”

Dozens of representatives of forest conservation organizations and residents of rural communities in California’s forested areas testified at the air board’s hearing Thursday in opposition to the inclusion of forest clearcutting in the rule. Air Resources Board member Dorene D’Adamo proposed an amendment to protect against forests being converted to tree farms for the purpose of generating carbon credits, but the board ultimately voted to allow forest clearcutting to remain in the rule.

“At best, this will subsidize, at the expense of the people of California, the operations of some of the most damaging forest management going on today,” said Nowicki. “At worst, this will incentivize the clearcutting of natural forests to be replaced by tree farms.”

Other loopholes in the new regulation will allow big timber companies to claim offset credits for forest growth and other management actions that likely would have occurred anyway, even in the absence of a forest offset program. These so-called “non-additional” credits do not represent actual emissions reductions, yet under the cap-and-trade rule can be sold to industrial polluters, who then can evade responsibility for reducing their own emissions. The result will be an overall increase in greenhouse gas pollution.

The Air Resources Board had outsourced the development of the forest offset protocol to the Climate Action Reserve, a nongovernmental organization that registers carbon offset projects. The Climate Action Reserve developed rules that reflect the strong influence and preferences of the timber industry, particularly Sierra Pacific Industries, California’s largest private landowner and greatest practitioner of forest clearcutting.

“Last night the board voted to make clearcutting the face of California’s efforts to fight global warming,” said Nowicki. “Industrial polluters, instead of making positive changes to improve their operations and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, will be able to simply buy dubious offset credits from industrial tree farms. This is a serious blow to the state’s forests as well as its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We can and must do better, and that starts with closing these dangerous loopholes.”

The cap-and-trade regulations adopted Thursday also allow industrial polluters to avoid responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning forest “biomass” — including whole, live trees — for the generation of energy and other industrial uses. This not only would encourage the wholesale logging of California’s forests to provide fuel for industrial processes and electrical power generation, but also threatens to increase overall greenhouse gas emissions because the actual greenhouse gas emissions from burning wood can be higher than from burning fossil fuels.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

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