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Residents 'deserve better'

I am writing to clarify any false impression the public may have from statements made by sawmill operator Jeff Roll (in the March 25 Clarion) and Liberty Green Renewables (in their presentation at the Crawford County Commissioners meeting) on the subject of fuel sources for the proposed Milltown biomass incinerator.

Mr. Roll said that for every tree harvested in Indiana, one and a half trees are planted. (Editor's note: He said the ratio of growth to removal of trees in Indiana is 1.54 to 1. That number includes not only trees that are planted, but any tree in the forest that is sustaining growth, whether it be a juvenile sapling or more mature tree.)

I wish it were so simple. The facts are that the trees harvested were big ones replaced by small ones, and those I know who plant trees to replace forests thin out two out of three of them later to give them room to mature.

LGR's literature says the plant will burn construction and demolition waste, wood from land clearing and logging, and fuel crops to feed their incinerator: poplar, willow and switch grass. LGR's "Frequently Asked Questions" says their plant is "carbon neutral and therefore helps to combat global warming." I should warn you to take a grain of salt now.

These plants often rely on a 12-year-old study by the Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change that said burning biomass is carbon neutral so doesn't add to global warming. Newer studies have refuted that: "Biomass, often generated through the use of wood products and byproducts, is not carbon neutral. It is incorrect to characterize biomass as 'zero emission fuel.' "(lomaprieta.sierraclub.org)

These more recent studies reveal that older forests store up to 10 percent of the world's CO2, thus fighting global worming. It takes 15 years to start storing any significant amount of CO2, and most is stored in trees that are 50 years or older. The truth is that this plant will make the undesirable trees, the sycamores and others left now by the loggers as without value, become valuable. The result could be that every large tree is cut, trees that now store CO2 and protect our climate, and all the CO2 released at once through burning.

In nature, the big trees die and release CO2 slowly as they decompose. Some is absorbed by other nearby big trees and some is stored in the soil as they rot. That is not what happens when land is cleared to provide a fuel source. In many places, loggers even vacuum the forest floor to feed these incinerators since all the mulch is fuel to them. That is land management no sawmill should approve of since new trees won't grow on land left bare.

The tree farms LGR expects to use, fast-growing poplars and willow, won't get old enough to store much CO2 before they are cut to sell as fuel. "Short-rotation clearcutting typically practiced by private industrial forest landowners is probably the worst possible way to manage forests for carbon storage because the young trees never develop large carbon stores and significant soil carbon is lost during and after clearcutting." In fact, "scientists estimate that a large fraction of all the carbon transferred to the atmosphere by humans has been released due to forest exploitation. In recent decades CO2 emissions resulting from human-induced changes to forests exceed CO2 emissions from all motor vehicle sources combined." ("The Straight Facts on Forests, Carbon, and Global Warming")

Moreover, herbicides are often used to help the young "farmed" trees get started. These toxins are taken in by the trees and released into the air when they are later burned.

When Mr. Ott of LGR said, "I'll just point out this is wood. This is not some kind of toxic substance," he could have been wrong. Those toxins can combine in the plant's stacks with the chlorine in the water they use to form dioxin, also known as Agent Orange, the most toxic chemical known to science. Also, remember the tons of sulfur dioxide (acid rain), the nitrogen oxides (a cause of crop failures), the CO2, the carbon monoxide and the 220 pounds a day of volatile organic compounds (more toxins) that LGR admits will be released after incinerating "clean wood."

LGR seems to diminish the amount of dioxin they admit will be released by saying it's less than a penny in weight, but a dioxin molecule is smaller than a virus. How much does a virus weigh? Perhaps less than a penny could fill the sky. I do know the EPA won't call one part per billion in the air "safe."

What about switch grass? The biotech switch grass seed has been found to contaminate native grass as far as 13 miles away. Watch out for your lawn and your hay crop. It also has been found to have seven times as much chlorine as coal. Chlorine is needed to create dioxin. It seems a shame that some people think we can't produce electricity without burning things, that geothermal power and the sun, wind or water currents can't be harnessed. We deserve better.

Mark R. Woods, Co-chair, Concerned Citizens of Crawford County
April 15, 2009

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