By Jim Scheff
The Nov. 27 editorial was correct in asserting that Kentucky needs to diversify its energy portfolio and take meaningful steps toward joining other states in capitalizing on renewable sources of energy and the jobs that come with them.
However, generating electricity by burning wood is not how to do it.
Burning waste wood and low-quality timber for electricity sounds like a great idea. And the stated goals of ecoPower, the Lexington-based company struggling to build a 50-megawatt power station in Hazard, are admirable—Create jobs and renewable electricity while supporting sustainable forest management. Unfortunately, those goals and reality are in disagreement, and the results could be disastrous.
The ecoPower plant will need to burn about 500,000 tons of wood a year to keep running. That's over 400 semi-trucks of wood chips each week. One quarter of this will be supplied by Pine Mountain Lumber, ecoPower's sister company.
However, with small mills and manufacturers increasingly using their wood waste in on-site boilers, ecoPower will most certainly need to turn to wood coming directly from the forest to keep their power plant operating.
In May, just a month before awarding ecoPower $250,000 as part of an initiative to support renewable energy projects, the U.S. Forest Service released The Southern Forest Futures Project Summary Report, stating, "Energy forecasts show wood use for bioenergy starting with and then quickly exhausting harvest residuals and other available wood waste. As a result, bioenergy demand would lead to additional harvesting of raw material."
Biomass harvesting relies heavily on what is called "whole-tree harvesting." This is different than traditional forestry, which leaves the tops of trees, known as "slash." Leaving that slash on the ground is important in limiting erosion and returning vital nutrients back to the soil.
Again quoting the Southern Forest Futures Project Summary Report, "Forecasted levels of woody-biomass harvests could lead to a reduction of stand productivity, deterioration of biodiversity, depletion of soil fertility, and a decline in water quality."
The recently released Recommendations for the Harvesting of Woody Biomass, produced by the Kentucky Division of Forestry, echoes these concerns, stating that removing this extra material "could result in possible impacts to soil productivity, soil compaction, water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, and other environmental influences tied to forest sustainability."
Further, dragging whole trees through the forest to a central chipping and loading site, as is common with biomass harvesting, scars the soil, damages native seedlings, and creates conditions known to promote the establishment of non-native invasive plants such as Tree-of-Heaven and Japanese stiltgrass.
And then there's the issue of carbon neutrality. It's simply not honest to say that logging is carbon neutral, as many biomass proponents insist. Peer-reviewed studies, including those that factor in long-lived wood products, have offered inconsistent conclusions on whether forest regrowth captures all of the carbon released.
But this is beside the point. With new studies suggesting a 3- to 6-foot increase in sea level by the end of the century, we simply can't wait 70 or 100 years for the forest to recapture the carbon released from logging and burning.
Smart, sustainable forestry is important to Kentucky's future, and the well-meaning people at ecoPower know this. Creating a market to support thinning forests that are recovering from prior mismanagement could help promote forest health in some places.
However, in the absence of appropriate regulations or binding purchasing agreements, a woody-biomass market will too easily lead to damage that outweighs potential benefits. Future generations deserve to inherit productive, diverse forests that can sustain families and communities. An under-regulated wood-burning biomass economy puts this at risk.
The sad irony is that if the ecoPower facility never opens, it will be for all of the wrong reasons. It won't be because of a commitment toward sustainable forestry. It will be the perennial Kentucky story of the influence of the coal industry dictating not only policy, but our futures.
Moving away from fossil fuels will require large-scale efficiency and innovation, including wind, solar and micro-hydro, but is completely possible if our legislators are willing to stop subsidizing the big polluters that fund their campaigns and instead create incentives to promote a truly sustainable energy economy.
For more information, click here.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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