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100 Scientists Write To NC Governor Objecting To Wood Pellet Industry

December 30, 2017

By Paul Homewood


Last month, 100 scientists wrote to the North Carolina Governor, urging him to address the threats posed by the wood pellet industry and to protect North Carolina’s forests.

The Op-Ed below originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer:


Authors: Norman L. Christensen, Ph.D. & William H. Schlesinger, Ph.D.


Today we joined over 100 scientists to send a letter to Governor Roy Cooper, urging him to address the threats posed by the wood pellet industry and to protect North Carolina’s forests. These threats include emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants and the degradation and loss of critical biodiversity.

The world’s largest producer of wood pellets, Enviva, owns and operates three wood pellet facilities in North Carolina as well as a Virginia facility near our border. Meeting the production capacity of these four facilities requires logging, conservatively, nearly 50,000 acres of forest per year—often in ecologically important, native hardwood forests.

The scale, location, and pace of such logging have very negative consequences for our environment, our climate, and our communities.

Governor Cooper has pledged to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. Forest conservation and restoration are critical to meeting those goals. Forests are our most powerful tool to soak up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Regrowth of forests in other areas removes about one-third of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. But, when biomass from forests is burned for electricity, it immediately emits large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. The more biomass that is burned, the larger these emissions. Deforestation in tropical regions currently contributes about 10% to the rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Now is the time for us to protect forests, not remove them in the name of “green energy.”

Burning trees for power emits more CO2 per unit of electricity than coal or gas plants. In addition, it releases harmful particulate matter and smog precursors. Yes, the regrowth of forests does recover this CO2, but very slowly. It takes many decades, sometimes more than a century, for forest land to recover the CO2 emitted from burning trees for energy, and successful regrowth is not guaranteed. As the just released National Climate Assessment indicates, we cannot defer action to reduce CO2 emissions to some future time.

Biomass cannot be transported more than a short distance before the energy it contains is equivalent to the energy needed to haul it. So, it doesn’t make sense that forests in North Carolina are being cut down, chopped into pellets, and shipped overseas to be burned in power stations in Europe—ironically, in the name of renewable energy.

Healthy, native forest ecosystems are also vital for climate change adaptation and disaster readiness.

Natural forests reduce the risk to low-lying and flood-prone areas, whereas forest degradation and clearcut logging increase flood risk and recovery costs. When the wood pellet industry drives the deforestation or degradation of coastal forests, we put coastal communities at greater risk for storms and flooding. As we pass the one year anniversary of Hurricane Matthew, and as recent hurricanes have brought tragedy and tremendous cost to the U.S. and its neighbors, it is more important than ever that we invest in keeping native forests standing.

Enviva has proposed a fourth wood pellet facility in Richmond County, North Carolina, which is being challenged in the courts. Yet another wood pellet facility in North Carolina would add to existing assaults on our forests and climate. To stave off the worst effects of climate change, it is imperative that we reduce CO2 emissions—our forests are key to achieving that goal. Governor Cooper can lead the way in the charge to protect forests.

Read the full letter HERE.

Norman L. Christensen, Ph.D., is an emeritus professor of ecology and the founding dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

William H. Schlesinger, Ph.D., is a biogeochemist, a former dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, and President Emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.


There is nothing particularly new about any of this, as I have been reporting for a while.

But what is notable is the identity of some of the signatories to the letter. In particular we find the names of Michael Mann and Jerry Melillo.

Mann of course needs no introduction, but Melillo has long been one of the chief mafioso of the climate scam. For instance, he is chair of the Federal National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, which is responsible for the US National Climate Assessments.

Whatever else we think about them, both Mann and Melillo are serious about reducing emissions of CO2.

For them to sign this letter is a strong indication that burning wood pellets in biomass plants does nothing to reduce emissions, and arguably makes matters a lot worse.

Claims to the contrary from the biomass industry appear to be ever more threadbare.

  1. December 30, 2017 12:38 pm

    The cruel irony is how the green lobby despise fossil fuels with religious zeal yet cannot admit that biomass is worse. It simply isn’t sustainable.

  2. December 30, 2017 12:44 pm

    Very interesting. This has been going for several years and now they write a letter (undated, I noted).

    When back at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for my PhD, I had a graduate ecology class to Dr. Robert K. Peet one of the signatories. During that class, I met Norm Christensen as he and Bob Peet worked together on studies. I also know Dr. Alan Weakley who was also a student of my major professor, Dr. A. E. Radford.

    Too bad they had to do the climate change crap, but it seems obligatory today. They are correct, in that the burning of wood puts more “pollution”, including carcinogens, into the atmosphere than the burning of coal or natural gas.

    My question is–where have they been? “Governor Cooper has pledged to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.” That is the problem. The EU’s participation in the Paris Climate Accord has led to this sleight of hand by Germany. Oh, those little unintended consequences.

  3. December 30, 2017 12:50 pm

    It’s hard to see how the pace of tree growing could possibly match that of industrial-scale tree felling. If it can’t, then obviously any chance of ‘sustainability’ has gone.

    • December 30, 2017 12:53 pm

      If there is any good news from this sad affair, it is that they clear-cut. This means that succession can take place and the forest should eventually return to the original species diversity. I hope the do-gooders keep their sticky fingers off the cleared land and allow it to return naturally.

      • Sheri permalink
        December 30, 2017 10:55 pm

        Come on. Now that all those pesky trees are gone, a few high-end subdivisions and a mall can go in. /sarc

    • Frank permalink
      December 30, 2017 10:48 pm

      In Arkansas U.S.A., as I am, the Arkansas Forestry Commission declared last month that forests are growing roughly 40% faster each year than the amount of cubic feet being harvested. They also said that at current growth rates, Arkansas was now getting to a very vulnerable stage for insects and disease to destroy massive amounts of timber if something wasn’t done. However nothing really can be done. Demand is only so much. Arkansas is in the top 10 states in the amount of timber harvest so it isn’t “small potatoes” we’re talking. . You clear cut a woodlot, yes it is a terrible site to behold, but in a couple of years, or three, some 6000 volunteer trees an acre start coming up, and over time as an old growth forest they will thin and dwindle (by sunlight starvation, water, and nutrient competition) themselves down to about 50 trees an acre over a several generations. Why not speed up the process and plant some and manage it all as a crop if you aren’t satisfied in letting nature take it’s much slower course? As someone who has replanted harvested, cut over, timber lands, I say help speed up the process, but leave numerous original trees to help keep the wildlife more diverse. Coppicing is a good method to build a new hardwood forest as well. It’s been practiced for hundreds of years here and around the world They grow really fast. Wood consumption is not always on the rise.In many ways products such as composites are affecting wood demand. Recycled wood use is about always on the rise. Preserving wood on a widespread scale is up as well. Many people are preserving their outdoor wood more than they even have in the past. It is too expensive to replace the wood. Back when fence pickets were less expensive I did not put preservatives on my southern yellow pine pickets now that they are about double the price I do put on preservatives. I can imagine other people thinking like I do from looking at some fences in my area alone in the past as to how they look now around me. To anyone who’s is concerned about CO2 management (which I’m really not) a new upcoming forest consumes and stores much more CO2 than an old growth forest. Most Pines end their sequestering, as a rule, by 15 years of age, and Oaks and such hardwood trees slow down seriously by 80 years of age or when they are about 11 inches of Diameter at Breast Height. DBH.

  4. Adrian permalink
    December 30, 2017 12:57 pm

    Paul, do you have any data on where UK pellets come from, esp those used for the RHI ‘printing money’ scam?

  5. David Leigh permalink
    December 30, 2017 1:24 pm

    Having moved to S Carolina from England some years ago, I agree wholeheartedly – there is a large powers station in England which is powered by wood pellets imported from the US. How insane is that? Chop down and process trees, transport them to a port, load them on a ship. cross the Atlantic, unload them and transport them just to burn them. You really could not make it up!!!

  6. Robert Fairless permalink
    December 30, 2017 1:45 pm

    The climate change fools and their ilk (ie.The British Government) have destroyed the coal industry in the UK; They converted the largest and the most efficient coal fired power station, Drax, to burning wood pellets, at huge expense, reducing capacity by one third and to support their faux industry they built three factories in North Carolina to process and convert forest timber to wood pellets. They were so incredibly pleased with themselves they knighted the man then in charge.
    The British Government and their energy servants are so devoid of common sense and business acumen that squandering huge sums of money becomes meaningless except for the poor taxpayers who are their victims.
    There is no hope of Great Britain ever being restored to its former status as an industrial and energy leader in the world despite the fact we are sitting on huge reserves of coal. Wind farms and wood pellets and biomass are the new religion the rest rejected out of hand. The preservation of forests no longer matters in the face of so much false science generated to support their mad schemes.
    What once made Great Britain ‘Great’ now impoverishes every household and makes every industry uncompetitive.

    • Edward Spalton permalink
      December 30, 2017 2:38 pm

      Robert Fairless,
      One of the delicious ironies of this situation is that many of the fashionable, environmentally aware elite of London have installed wood burning stoves to be ” natural”, “sustainable”, “renewable” and to support the whole climate change ethos.

      Now, the authorities are moving to ban them because of the extra pollution they put into the atmosphere. These same authorities also encouraged the changeover to diesel engined vehicles because they put less CO2 into the atmosphere, overlooking the other pollutants in their demonisation of carbon.

      Of course, the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s banished the famous London smogs and insisted on smokeless fuels. Nobody then thought of banning wood. It was so,old-fashioned – just as nobody would have thought of using windmills to generate electricity!

      • Sheri permalink
        December 30, 2017 10:58 pm

        So true. The romantic notion of going back in time and using “natural” and “renewable” energy seems to result in policies that careen from one idea/policy to another with little or no thought involved.

  7. December 30, 2017 2:15 pm

    “burning wood pellets in biomass plants does nothing to reduce emissions, and arguably makes matters a lot worse. Claims to the contrary from the biomass industry appear to be ever more threadbare.”

    The biomass “industry”, just like the rest of the renewable energy “industry” (wind and solar), will lie and lie and lie to keep the subsidy trough full so that they can keep their snouts in it.

    There is still no end in sight to the insanity that has gripped the elitist establishment.

  8. December 30, 2017 2:22 pm

    Is it of significance that both authors are 70-ish emerituses?

  9. December 30, 2017 2:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  10. December 30, 2017 3:01 pm

    Anyone short DRAX GROUP?

  11. December 30, 2017 3:12 pm

    That should be

    • December 30, 2017 3:39 pm

      I had missed the fire last week. According to the Telegraph:

      “A fire is a relatively rare occurrence at biomass plants which spend hundreds of millions of pounds to carefully store and transport the pellets.”

      The Yorkshire Post, irony bypass:

      “Drax Group contributed £1.7bn to the British economy last year, helping to support thousands of jobs around the country, according to recent research.”

      • Dave Ward permalink
        December 30, 2017 5:07 pm

        “A fire is a relatively rare occurrence at biomass plants which spend hundreds of millions of pounds to carefully store and transport the pellets.”

        But when fires DO occur it can be incredibly difficult to put them out:

        Essex chief fire officer David Johnson said: “This is a hugely challenging fire. I’ve only been to another one of this kind once before in my 24-year career.”

        The plant was never repaired, and ended up being demolished…

  12. Kent Clizbe permalink
    December 30, 2017 4:15 pm

    Forget the CO2 scare-mongering, let’s look at the forest scare-mongering.

    In the eyes of these foolish and power-mad professors, the rubes and hicks of NC are wandering around with chain saws cutting down “native forests.”

    In reality, outside of the greenie habitats on the Outer Banks, RTP, and Asheville, NC land-owners happily manage their timber resources, without lectures from eggheads.

    Trees are a crop, like any other. Land management involves owners making a decision what is the best crop for a piece of land. Owners plant trees, manage their growth, harvest, and sell the trees–like any other crop.

    These foolish meddlers babble about “50,000 acres” being clear cut each year.

    The NC Forestry organization reports that:

    “North Carolina has 18.6 million acres of forests across the state, which spans some 31 million acres, meaning that 60% of the state is covered in forests. Hardwoods continue to be the dominant species in the state, making up some 55% of the forest canopy. Softwoods, which includes several pine species, are 28% of the inventory. The final 17% of forests are categorized as mixed stands where neither hardwoods or softwoods dominate.

    “In terms of forest ownership, private landowners own some 79% of the forests in the state. Non-industrial private forests landowners (NIPF) own 64% of those privately held forests while timber management investment companies own the remaining 15% of this category. The public owns 14% of the state’s forests, including 7% that is comprised in the five National Forest located in North Carolina. The forest products industry itself owns the remaining 7% of the state’s forests.”

    If Michael Mann has some secret method for managing tree farms, he should fly down to NC and share it. If all he has to add is holier-than-thou scare-mongering, he should shut up and keep hacking hockey sticks, and hugging tree stumps. NC tree farmers can manage their own resources.

  13. December 31, 2017 11:57 am


    Thank you for your comment.

    On page 8 of an IEA report, published at, on global use of wood pellets for power generation, you will see that the UK appears to “lead the world” as a wood pellet consumer in the vainglorious but wrong belief that this assinine industry is “saving CO2 emissions”. The whole wood pellet business, including the entire supply chain, from growing the trees to wood processing and shipping the pellets across the Atlantic, is funded by confiscating £billions from UK electricity consumers (through the rates) and donating these £billions to the shareholders of Drax and the owners of the forests, saw mills and wood pellet factories.

    The argument being that all this saves CO2. It does not why, in this very particular case, most readers of this column, are likely to agree with the probably obnoxious US professors whose jobs depend on convincing us all that CO2 is setting the world on fire. One trusts that they have “done the sums”, correctly this time.

    The Brits deforested Britain centuries ago, mostly for the purpose of building ships. Surely there are more beneficial ways of exploiting US forests for commercial gain?

    I wish you and yours a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

    • Kent Clizbe permalink
      December 31, 2017 2:17 pm


      Thanks for your insights.

      Yes, but the UK’s importing wood pellets to burn because of a strange CO2 fetish is not the point of the egghead’s letter to the Governor of North Carolina!

      These geniuses are pressuring the PRODUCERS of the pellets, not the CONSUMERS.

      The signatories of the letter seem to believe that NC is being ravaged by the 50,000 acres of timber cut in a year for wood pellet production.

      NC farmers are not wandering the hills clear-cutting “native forests” for pellets.

      See the statistics from the NC Forestry site above. 50,000 acres is a drop in the bucket of NC’s tree acreage.

      For details on the NC Tree Farm Sustainability Standards, see this link:

      NC tree farmers are not some sort of demented Dr Seuss characters, laying waste for the fun of it.

      If addled Brits want to buy NC’s wood to turn into suppositories to shove where the sun doesn’t shine, that’s the CONSUMERS’ problem. NC tree farmers will continue to manage their products as they do now–sensibly and responsibly–and sell them on the free market.

      If the addled Brits choose to turn NC’s wood products into pellets, import them to the UK, and burn them for electricity–that’s the Brits’ problem. NOT North Carolina’s problem!

      The point here is that the eggheads who signed the letter, as usual, are interfering where they are clueless. The land belongs to the tree farmers. They are experts in using the land. The eggheads should butt out of the NC farmers’ land use decisions.

      If the eggheads want to interfere, they should write a letter to Prince Charles, or Prince Harry, and demand the twittish Brits stop using wood pellets.

  14. Gamecock permalink
    December 31, 2017 3:29 pm

    ‘These threats include emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants and the degradation and loss of critical biodiversity.’

    This is so full of populist cliches, I don’t believe these are scientists.

  15. Preferred permalink
    December 31, 2017 3:39 pm

    Timber is usually cut into lumber and pellets are formed from the waste products, scrap, chips, and saw dust. This notion of climate change being a “bad” thing is little more than religious zealotry. The Earth is a dynamic system of systems reaching back in age of billions of years. Using the microscopic flicker of human lifespan as the unit of measure against a thing that is as ancient as the Earth is like using the edge of a piece of paper to measure the distance between east&west coast and expect perfect accuracy.

    • December 31, 2017 5:02 pm

      Presumably the scrap could also be used for paper and other products?

  16. December 31, 2017 5:15 pm

    The Guardian wises up on biomass?

    Burning wood for power is ‘misguided’ say climate experts
    Using biomass instead of fossil fuels may not be the answer to averting global warming
    – – –
    Obviously not the same ‘climate experts’ who claimed it was the answer.

    As for ‘averting global warming ‘– we’ve had it on and off since the Little Ice Age ended, so fooling around at the margins with crazy schemes won’t do anything worth mentioning.

  17. January 2, 2018 2:58 pm

    So cutting down trees is green , cos the replacement trees grow and pull CO2 out of the atmosphere ?
    Dear EU can I please claim all the carbon credit $$ for people who deforested the Amazon and Siberia for cattle farms etc, which have now failed and trees grown up ?

  18. catweazle666 permalink
    January 2, 2018 8:20 pm

    The real irony is that one of the major reasons for Great Britain turning to coal in the first place – thus starting the Industrial Revolution – was the demand of the Royal Navy for ever-increasing numbers of ever larger ships to maintain Britannia’s Rule of the Waves had massively depleted the great forests that once covered much of the British Isles not just for shipbuilding but also for charcoal for smelting metals for weapons, so we had to devise a replacement technology utilising the most common fossil fuel – coal, and build iron ships.
    Ah, the lessons of history…

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