A shift in Europe from coal-fired to wood-burning power plants is helping to create jobs in the U.S. logging industry, while at the same time driving environmentalists crazy who see wetlands and decades-old forests being destroyed in North Carolina and other states.
According to The Wall Street Journal, European energy companies — under pressure from governments there to reduce reliance on fossil fuels — are turning to U.S. forests to harvest wood because of tight restrictions on logging in Europe, where forests are in short supply to begin with.
As a result, U.S. jobs are being created in an industry where growth had come to a standstill because of the decline in the housing market and less demand for wood products in general. In North Carolina and other states where logging was once a major employer, forests are being clear-cut again to furnish pellets for burning in European power plants.
"The logging industry around here was dead a few years ago," Paul Burby, owner of a firm called Carolina East Forest Products, told the Journal. "Now that Europe is using all these pellets, we can barely keep up."
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But conservationists here worry that the new clear-cutting in many wetlands and swamp areas and, in some cases, in forests more than 100 years old, is upsetting the delicate ecosystem. They do not believe that replanting can make up for the amount of forests, not to mention animal and other plant life, being lost. And they dispute claims by wood-pellet producers and logging companies that the operations are environmentally sound and only harvest low-value sections of forests.
The demand for U.S.-produced wood pellets is expected to remain high for some time in Europe, where the European Union Commission has set a goal of reducing emissions 20 percent by 2020. It can't be done by replacing coal with wind and solar, according to the Journal. Energy companies that convert to wood are being rewarded.
For example, the Journal reported that Drax, a large power company that burns coal in its plants that was mined in the Yorkshire area of England, has converted half of its coal units to wood pellets, nearly all of it harvested in the United States. Once its plants are fully converted, the company expects to collect $600 million annually in renewable energy credits from the government, the Journal noted.
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