The Netherlands, an outsider's view.

The Netherlands, an outsider's view.

Environment

US calls On Dutch government to cease environmentally detrimental subsidies

Southern Americans are urging the Dutch government to stop granting subsidies for biomass plants, which critics say release pathogenic toxic substances and damage the environment.

Biomass plants generate energy by burning compressed pieces of wood called pellets and according to information published Saturday by AD, from next year the Netherlands will use €11.4 billion in subsidies to import thousands of tonnes of US pellets for burning in 628 biomass installations, including €2.6 billion for power plants in Geertruidenberg and Eemshaven.

The Dutch government maintains that biomass plants are climate-neutral but AD says scientists contest this claim, “Especially…with wood from the US that does not participate in the UN Climate Change Agreement in Paris.”

The European umbrella of scientists recently concluded that “Generating energy with wood from forests causes more CO2 emissions than coal and gas.” Professor of ecology Louise Vet calls it “a delusion” that burning biomass is sustainable. European biomass energy demand requires millions of trees that do not grow quickly. According to AD, “As a result, in the years after they are felled, there is no less, but more CO2 in the air…for the time being, biomass is causing more global warming.”

Nature organizations also reportedly claim the necessary forestry for pellet production causes “serious damage to forests, rivers and wildlife areas.” Further, pellet factories are often located in poor communities where the residents complain about pathogenic toxic substances.

While only ‘residual wood’ is allowed in the production of pellets, AD cites evidence that the forestry industry does not always adhere to this regulation. Andrew Whitehurst of the nature organization Healthy Gulf explains that many forests are privately owned and the owners decide for themselves the fate of their trees. Whitehurst says, “Because the demand for paper and furniture timber is declining, the pellet industry is often the only option. So, of course, whole trees also go to the factories. Moreover, the traders…are paid per kilo. Large, heavy trees are therefore given priority.”

Whitehurst calls replacing natural forests with uniform plantations for pellet production “An ecological drama,” continuing that the practice is “bad for biodiversity, for wild animals and for water quality,” as well as a cause of increased flood risk.

Many Dutch politicians criticize the Netherlands’ use of wood pellets. MEP Bas Eickhout of the GroenLinks has called for stricter biomass regulations across Europe, saying, “Of all biomass applications, burning is the dumbest thing you can do.” MP Matthijs Sienot from the D66 government party says, “If you cut down healthy trees in the US, drag them here with polluting ships and then burn them in five seconds, then that certainly does not help the climate.” Lammert van Raan of the Partij voor de Dieren calls the subsidies “counterproductive,” and Sandra Beckerman of the Socialist Party reportedly characterizes the practice as “unjust” and a “very expensive climate policy at the expense of communities.”

A Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate spokesperson told AD that “the requirements for biomass in the Netherlands are among the strictest in the world. All imported pellets must have a sustainability certificate.” Yet AD reports that the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) – which oversees certification – “has announced that it has no insight into the controls in the US.”

Whitehurst says he sees no profit in biomass production “…because burning wood to generate energy is not sustainable.” He says ultimately, “Our nature is in danger so that you can show off your climate policy. It’s unfair.”

Featured Image: USDA [Flickr]