Friday, February 28, 2014

[biofuelwatch] Senegal: Murky International Conglomerate Threatens Land Rights, Food Security, and Wetland Preserve

Press Release: Senegal: Murky International Conglomerate Threatens Land Rights, Food Security, and Wetland Preserve

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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For Immediate Release

Contact:; +1-510-512-5458


Oakland, CA: A new report released by the Oakland Institute reveals how the lives and livelihoods of more than 9,000 pastoralists and a protected ecosystem in northwestern Senegal are directly threatened by a foreign-controlled 20,000-hectare plantation. Owned by an international conglomerate with hidden investors and suspicious connections, Senhuile SA is a joint venture controlled by Italy's Tampieri Financial Group, Senegalese investors, and Agro Bioethanol International, a shell company registered in New York.

Surrendering Our Future exposes widespread misconduct by Senhuile SA, including complete disregard for consultation and consent from local communities, lack of transparency and accountability, and the project's devastating impact on people's livelihoods, food security, and the environment. 

The agro-industrial plantation was initially established in Fanaye, Senegal, where violence resulting from local opposition led to the death of two villagers and dozens of injuries in 2011. Soon after, the project was moved by presidential decree to the ecologically and culturally sensitive forest and wetland preserve of Ndiaël, which is home to 9,000 pastoralists and their 400,000 livestock. The Senhuile project is now running roughshod over the inhabitants and the environment of the Ndiaël reserve, cutting off access to grazing land, water, food, and firewood and threatening local livelihoods. Residents from the 40 villages that have relied on the reserve for decades are calling for the project to be stopped before it forces them off of their land and destroys the reserve.

"It's bewildering that, after so much controversy in Fanaye, the government moved Senhuile's project just 30 kilometers west without any consultation or impact assessment and no regard for established villages within the lease area," said Oakland Institute's Policy Director, Frederic Mousseau. "Despite claims of prioritizing food security, the Senegalese government has chosen to place more than 20,000 hectares in the hands of a foreign company to grow export crops at the expense of local food producers," he continued. 

Ardo Sow, a local community representative from Ndiaël, said, "The disdain for local communities is far too obvious. An Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was only conducted months after the start of the project, and was never made public. Moreover, the map produced by state technicians before the start of the project identified the existence of only 6 of the 40 villages and hamlets on the land leased to Senhuile."

With some 6,000 hectares cleared and partially planted, the company has built irrigation canals that divert much-needed water from communities and fenced off the land, restricting access to grazing land, water, and firewood. Complaints of harassment, intimidation, and physical assault by the police and private guards hired by the firm abound. 

The report's release coincides with the launch of a global campaign sponsored by local Senegalese groups and international organizations, including The Collective for Ndiaël, CNCR, Action Aid, ENDA Pronat, GRAIN, and Re:Common, who are calling for an end of this land deal before it permanently destroys the communities and the environment of Ndiaël, Senegal. Read the joint press release here


Read the full report

Télécharger en français

Watch video from Ndiaël (long version)

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[biofuelwatch] Labor abuses in palmoil industry

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[Biofuelwatch] Biofuelwatch February Newsletter

Biofuelwatch February Newsletter
Biofuelwatch February Newsletter
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Dear subscriber, this is the February edition of our monthly UK newsletter, with details of recent news from bioenergy campaigns. Please let us know if you would like more information about particular campaign issues/news or if you'd like to find out about getting involved in any relevant campaigns.
In this newsletter:
1. Vote for the Biggest Biomass Baddie!
2. Update on Public loan Guarantees
3. The Department for Transport reviews the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation
4. Fire at Ironbridge Power Station
5. Bad news for Trafford residents and local democracy
6. Campaign Success in Vermont, US
Want to get in touch, or get involved in one of our campaigns? Please email
Donate to Biofuelwatch
1. Vote for the Biggest Biomass Baddie!

On the 9th and 10th of April a conference bringing together the biggest corporate names in biomass will take place in London. Representatives from key organisations in the global biomass industry will be attending to discuss how to further increase their profits from environmental destruction and social injustice. They will be treating themselves to a gala dinner and awards ceremony designed to recognise "outstanding contributions" to the biomass industry.

Join us in showing contempt for this celebration of the profits of a few at the expense of many, by participating in our Alternative Awards Ceremony. You can do this by voting for the Biggest Biomass Baddie from our short-list of conference attendees, including: Drax, The Green Investment Bank, The Department for Energy and Climate Change, The Renewable Energy Association, ENVIVA and The Wood Pellet Association of Canada.
Then join us on Wednesday the 9th of April outside the Gibson Hall in London, when we will be announcing the winner at our Alternative Awards Ceremony.
This Alternative Awards Ceremony is part of a month of events which put the spotlight on the destructive biomass industry. Visit our website for more information on what else is going on in April, including a demonstration outside the Drax AGM.

For more information please visit:
If you belong to an organisation which would like to show your support for this and other events, then please let us know and we will add your name to our list of supporters on our website.

Please help us promote this vote and protest through our Facebook page: and by tweeting with #biomessawards . Thanks!
2. Update on Public Loan Guarantees

Thanks to all who have taken part in our alert and asked the Treasury not to give public loan guarantees for big biomass at Avonmouth (Helius Energy), Eggborough (Eggborough Plc) and Tilbury (Tilbury Green Power). Those projects remain on the shortlist for such guarantees but have as yet not been awarded them. This means there's still time to try and stop them from getting loan guarantees.

Replies from the Treasury

You may have had a response from the Treasury pointing to supposed UK biomass sustainability standards. This information is wrong. DECC has announced such standards – standards which have been condemned as wholly inadequate by NGOs. But they've delayed them twice so far, currently to April 2015, with no guarantees they'll actually be introduced then. Right now, companies only have to declare where the feedstock comes from and whether it would meet criteria, but they'll get subsidies regardless. And the Treasury has confirmed to an MP that sustainability doesn't feature into their 'assessment and due diligence' under the Guarantee Scheme!

European Commission looking into the Guarantee Scheme

So far, Drax remains the only company to have received a public loan guarantee – for £75 million – under the government's Guarantee Scheme (for their partial conversion to biomass). We were pleased to hear that the European Commission is now carrying out a preliminary investigation into this award to Drax. According to the Financial Times, this could result in a full investigation as to whether the Guarantee Scheme might breach European State Aid rules. This is in response to a complaint submitted by Friends of the Earth and the Bristol Energy Co-Operative.

Avon Coalition Against Biomass

As a result of the South West Extreme Energy Gathering on 1 February the Avon Coalition Against Biomass has formed and begun campaigning against Helius Energy's plans for a 100MW biomass power station at Avonmouth. The website will go live imminently but until then information on the campaign can be found here including details of 2 public meetings in Bristol and Avonmouth on 10 and 11 March. They are also planning campaigns against banks planning to invest, meetings with the City Council and a public demonstration in March. Their next campaign planning meeting is this Sunday 2 March, 7pm, at Kebele, 14 Robertson Rd, Easton.

The campaign against the power station's inclusion in the Treasury's public loan guarantee scheme is ongoing working with local MPs.
3. The Department for Transport reviews the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation

The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) was introduced in April 2008 and currently mandates 4.5% biofuel blending with all diesel and petrol for road transport. It also implements EU biofuel greenhouse gas and sustainability standards (criticised as deeply inadequate by NGOs and scientists). The Department for Transport has just closed a consultation about the RTFO to which Biofuelwatch has submitted a detailed response, pointing out why the RTFO should be scrapped and why biofuel targets must not under any circumstances be increased further.

There is a striking admission hidden in the consultation document: "One consequence of providing additional incentives for biofuels derived from waste materials is an increased risk of fraud. Following RED [EU Renewable Energy Directive] implementation the Administrator noted that the volumes of used cooking oil (UCO) derived biofuel being reported as coming from the Netherlands were implausibly high based on the population size."

The background to this is that, since 2011, the EU has allowed waste-derived biofuels to count double towards biofuel targets. Since then, UK suppliers have reported far more used cooking oil and tallow (a byproduct from slaughter houses) than palm oil, soya or other virgin plant oils in biodiesel. Note that most biofuels are still made from crops rather than waste, because most biofuels are now ethanol (mainly from maize) rather than biodiesel. But still, it's a striking shift away from tropical feedstocks. At least on paper. As the quote above proves, there's nothing to stop companies from falsifying data. The Department for Transport claims there's nothing to worry about now because they have written to suppliers to point out the 'risks' of not verifying their data. But there's nothing to suggest there's any risk to companies committing fraud.

This sums up much of what's wrong with biofuel (or future biomass) sustainability standards: For all we know, 'Used Cooking Oil from the Netherlands' could be palm oil from Indonesia. Just as 'sustainable wood' could be anything but sustainable.
4. Fire at Ironbridge Power Station

Ironbridge Power Station – one of two operational coal-to-biomass power station conversions in the UK – experienced a major fire on 4th February. Fortunately nobody was injured, but it is one of a series of accidents involving coal power stations that burn large quantities of biomass. These include a major fire at Tilbury B two years ago (that power station is now closed), two explosions at Danish power stations and one at a Dutch one in 2012 as well as a fire at a converted coal power plant in Oregon. We therefore issued a press release: Biomass industry "playing with fire" say campaigners as Ironbridge power station suffers blaze. The cause of the Ironbridge fire is not yet known and the power station remains closed while E.On is investigating. Given that companies do not generally publish their incident reports, we cannot know how many of those accidents are linked directly to explosive or self-igniting wood pellets/dust, or how many are the result of the extended life-spans that biomass conversions mean. But the number of accidents at such plants is striking given that, as Drax say, "You can almost count on one hand the number of converted units across Europe". This clearly raises serious health and safety concerns for local residents and workers.
5. Bad news for Trafford residents and local democracy

We were very disappointed to hear the news from Trafford that the local authority has lost a High Court bid against planning consent for Peel Energy's 20 MW waste wood incinerator . Local residents have been actively campaigning against this proposal for several years through the Breathe Clean Air Group. Legal nitrogen dioxide levels are already being exceeded in Trafford. It belongs to an area where the Supreme Court has found the Government to be breaching EU air quality legislation, resulting in the European Commission finally launching legal proceedings against the UK government. Following a strong local campaign, Trafford Borough Council's planning committee unanimously rejected the planning application but had their decision overturned by the Secretary of State following an appeal by Peel Energy. And now the High Court has thrown out the Council's legal challenge. We showed in our report Biomass: The Chain of Destruction that this case illustrates how planning policies have made it virtually impossible for residents and local authorities to protect public health from dirty developments. The Breathe Clean Air group has pledged to continue their fight against this highly polluting development:
6. Campaign Success in Vermont, USA

The small state of Vermont in the USA and home state of Biofuelwatch staff member Rachel Smolker, took a big step in declaring that the North Springfield Sustainable Energy 35 MW biomass facility was not a "public good". The state's Public Service Board (PBS) must review proposals for large developments in the state and either grant or refuse developers the "certificate of public good" necessary for proceeding with the project. The plant would have burned some 450,000 tonnes of wood harvested from the "Green Mountain" state not far from Rutland, Vermont, which suffers the highest asthma rates in the entire country. Local citizens worked diligently to oppose the facility and succeeded in impressing upon the PSB that the facility would increase emissions of greenhouse gases and pollute the local air. This decision is one of the first cases where a permit was denied on these grounds, rather than on economic concerns. See here for a Huffington Post article about it:
2014 Biofuelwatch,

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

[biofuelwatch] Liberia: Sinoe complains GVL to Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil

Liberia: Sinoe complains GVL to Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil

FrontPageAfrica | 21 February 2014
Liberia: Sinoe complains GVL to Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil 
Monrovia — Barely a month after farmers, charcoal producers and workers filed a complaint of abuses against Buchanan Renewable, known as BRE, to Overseas Private Investment Corporation ("OPIC") an Investor to BR, to investigate human rights and environmental abuses by BR, Another complaint from some citizens of Sinoe has been filed to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an overall body of Palm Oil Worldwide, to stop Golden Veroleum Liberia(GVL) ongoing operations of land clearing in their towns and villages.

Despite the order to cease all operations placed on GVL, by RSPO nearly a year ago, the multi Billion Dollar Oil Palm Company operating in Sinoe, until issues of human Rights are addressed, the company is allegedly clearing farmland in other parts of Sinoe without meeting the requirement of the concession law.

Golden Veroleum (Liberia) Inc., a subsidiary of the Verdant Fund Lp whose major investors include Golden Agri- Resources Ltd entered into a concession agreement with the Government of Liberia for the development of oil palm plantation in Sinoe, Grand Kru, Maryland, Rivercess and River Gee Counties in Southeastern Liberia.

The signed and ratified concession agreement which was awarded to GVL covers a total of approximately 500,000 acres (220,000 hectares). A Liberian smallholder program is to develop 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) of oil palm in support of local Liberia oil palm initiatives.GVL has decided to initiate this large-scale oil palm plantation by beginning with the cultivation of 33,000 ha of land in three districts of Sinoe.

In a complaint filed dated February 17, 2014, addressed to Mr. Ravin Krishnan, Complaints Coordinator of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in Bangsar Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, citizens of Kulu, Shaw, Nyarn and Plahn towns and villages complained that as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Golden Veroleum has an obligation to adhere and comply with and implement the RSPO standards and procedures including rights of local communities to their customary land and their right to give or withhold their Free Prior Informed consent that GVL has not met. A potion of the complaints now in the possession of this paper, reads as follows;

Mr. Ravin Krishnan,

Complaints Coordinator

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - Bangsar

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

February 17th, 2014

Mr. Ravin Krishnan

We write to formally bring to your attention that Golden Veroleum is currently engaged in active land clearing on our customary land without our free prior informed consent as well as violating the RSPO New planting procedures which requires Golden Veroleum to not proceed with any land preparation, any new planting or infrastructure development.

Mr.Ravin Krishnan, in instances and occasions where some of our people have made inquiries and requested that Golden Veroleum, consult more directly with us and our local community leaders and obtain our Free Prior Informed Consent prior to proceeding with their land demarcation and clearing operations, Golden Veroleum has used its financial influence with our local Government authorities intimidation, harassments and threat of arrest and detention to forcefully take away our customary lands without our Free Prior Informed consent.

In a very specific incidence of threats, intimidation and harassments, GVL influenced the County and District officials to, on 27th 2013, suspend for time indefinite the General town Chief of Lower Kulu Clan, Levi Jarteh essentially because he attended a KUDA (Kulu United Development Association) meeting held on November 8 - 9, 2013.

In December 2013, the County Police Commander summarily arrested and detained a health worker, Abraham Dugbe, essentially because he attended the KUDA meeting of November 8 - 9, 2013 on the GVL issue. He was released later after thousands of Liberian Dollars had been extorted from him.

Similarly, on February 10, 2014, GVL and the District and County officials connived and arrested several community leaders who had raised concerns about the manner in which Golden Veroleum was forcefully grabbing their land.

The individuals who included the Chairman of KUDA were illegally arrested and detained by the Police, not a single charge was brought against these community leaders and not a single writ of arrest authorized by a judge was presented to them. They made sure these gentlemen stayed away from the area in Police Custody up to February 13, until a GVL-EPA-County-District authorities concocted meeting to vote 'Yes' or 'No' to GVL was done.

Those arrested and detained on the orders of GVL are Sampson W. Toby, Chairman of KUDA, Simpson Snoh, and Member of the KUDA Secretariat, and Anthony Julukon and Darlington Flahn, citizens and residents of Kulu. The individuals were seen as a place in Wieh Town, Kulu, where GVL had done clearing. The KUDA Chairman, Snoh and Julukon essentially went to verify claims that GVL had done land clearing in the area.

Mr. Ravin Krishnan, we are living under constant fear of threats, harassments, and intimidation and arrest because we have refused permission for Golden Veroleum to take away our customary lands left to us by our ancestors. As a result, we live in constant fear and are worried about our safety and security.

The citizens further said in their complaint that grabbing their lands without respecting their customary rights and without the free, prior and informed consent of the customary land owners as represented through representative organizations of their choice (P&C 2.2, 2.3, 7.5 and 7.6). GVL and the County and District officials have used undue influence to make some of their people to sign MOU.

"In two separate meetings that Global Witness and SAMFU along with KUDA held in communities in Tarjuowon, the communities, for example, Jacksonville in Kulu and David Town in Shaw, said that they do not want GVL and that the county and district officials have been misinformed and harassing and intimidation and threatening them to give their land to GVL."

In response to the complaint, GVL Head of Communications, Mr. Virgil Magee through a communication to journalist said KUDA has welcomed GVL's investment in the Tarjuowon district and endorsement has been received by the Paramount Chief of the Kulu people. Corporation has, however, was badly impeded by a series of press statements, led by a 'rogue representative' of KUDA that have incited conflict within the Kulu communities.

Adding via mobile that GVL does not have the power to order arrest of any citizen neither does GVL have the power to control County authorities to arrest anyone, but on 11 February 2014, it came to the Company's attention that four arrests had been made following an alleged incident of armed intimidation by the rogue representative of KUDA and three accomplices. And to GVL's understanding, the four men were released on bail.

"GVL was invited to observe talks set to be held on 12 February 2014 between factions of the Kulu community in Tarjuowon district. Our attendance at the meeting was and is consistent with our commitment to working harmoniously with local communities and protecting the environment. We were made aware of the incident the morning of 11 February 2014, in which two of our security personnel felt threatened by armed individuals. We do and have always respected Liberian laws and Liberian citizens' right to peaceful protest, but do not believe that threats, violence or any other form of intimidation is ever warranted."

Addressing the situation of forcing citizens to sign a MOU, Mr. Magee communication said;

"Our original MoU with the people of Tarjuowon included yes votes from the majority of people there, including paramount chiefs, elders, women, youth, etc. The MoU has over 600 signatures showing their support for the employment, development and investment we will bring to the area. During the recent Kulu Conference, again, there was a unanimous vote in favor of GVL investment and those votes came from residents of: Bestnewlue, Jacksonville, Oneway, Unification, Saywon Town, Newtown, Plahn, Nyarn, Tarloue Town, Boe, Plahn, Shaw, Shaw-David, Pluhoh, Monrovia, Greenville, Sonouhn and Pelbeh Town."

Answering to Global Witness, part in the matter, Mageeadmitted that GVLreceived a message from Global Witness suggesting mistreatment of these individuals while they were in police custody. And that they share their concerns and have sought assurances from the authorities but that has not been the case. And that's due to the disagreement within Kulu, Paramount Chief Johnny Brown, formally invited all Kulu from Monrovia, the local area and the diaspora to a National Kulu Conference to decide upon GVL investment in the area.

Magee added that Kulu Paramount Chief's invitation was published by them in several newspapers and air on radio for several weeks prior to the meeting, and they received a personal invite from the paramount chief's representative in Monrovia. His communication furthered disclosed that Invitees included GVL, The Forest Trust, UNMIL Civil Affairs, NGOs and all Kulu factions. Each of these organizations, including both Kulu factions received a personal invitation from the paramount chief, in addition to the public announcement in the papers and on radio.

"The National Kulu Conference was facilitated by the Liberian Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA representatives read aloud position statements from both Kulu factions. GVL attended by invitation of the Kulu paramount chief, but only in an observational role. We did not have any input."

Also speaking on the issue, Sinoe County Senator Monbutu Nyenpan said the Legislative Caucus have heard of some concern being raised by some Citizens of Tarjuowon District but Representative Zarzarof District three where Tarjuowon falls has been spearheading the discussion between the citizens and GVL and would deliver a full briefing to the caucus. And that the Caucus also heard about the arrests of some citizens and that the case is presently under investigation while those arrested was released.

"Indeed, our people need the development GVL is carrying on in the County and we appreciate the presence of GVL and we also trust that GVL will continue its operations in the County but with international standards and Principles.'

"I also trust and believe that GVL will take into consideration the concerns of the people and communities they will be operating in. Sinoe County needs the GVL investment and from our perspective we will do all we can to ensure that this investment survives in the best interest of the people of Sinoe and the investor." - See more at:



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[biofuelwatch] Senegalese farmers and herders demand shady transnational corporation Senhuile SA get off their land

New from GRAIN | 27 February 2014

The Ndiaël Collective, CNCR, ENDA Pronat, ActionAid Senegal, ActionAid Italy, Peuples Solidaires, Re:Common, GRAIN and The Oakland Institute

Senegalese farmers and herders demand shady transnational corporation Senhuile SA get off their land

Farmers and herders from northwestern Senegal have travelled to Europe to demand the scrapping of a land deal that threatens the lives and livelihoods of some 9,000 people. A murky international conglomerate, Senhuile SA, has leased 20,000 hectares of land in the Ndiaël Reserve, land which has been used for decades by residents of some 40 villages in the area. The villagers want the project stopped, saying it will cut off their access to grazing land, water, food and firewood – ultimately forcing them off their homes and land.

Senhuile SA is a joint venture controlled by Italy's Tampieri Financial Group, Senegalese investors, and Agro Bioethanol International, a shell company registered in New York. The herders, along with representatives of the Conseil National de Concertation et de Coopération des Ruraux (CNCR) and the Senegalese non-governmental organisations ENDA Pronat and ActionAid, are in Europe from today to 6 March 2014 to mobilise citizens to call on Tampieri, Senhuile's majority shareholder, to close down the project. The project was initially established in another location, Fanaye, where violence resulting from local opposition led to the death of two villagers and dozens more injured in 2011.

A new report released today by the Oakland Institute exposes the numerous flaws with this project, including the lack of consultation with and consent from local communities, the opaque nature of Senhuile's operations, as well as the devastating impact of the project on people's livelihoods. Some 6,000 hectares have already been cleared and planted with different crops. The company has built irrigation canals and fences that restrict locals' access to grazing land, water and firewood. "Villagers complain of harassment, intimidation and physical assault by the police and private guards hired by the firm," said Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute.

According to Ardo Sow, spokesperson for Ndiaël Collective of villages resisting the Senhuile project: "The disdain for local communities is far too obvious. An Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was only conducted months after the start of the project, and was never made available to the public. Moreover, the map produced by state technicians before the start of the project identified the existence of only 6 of the 40 villages and hamlets using the land to be leased to Senhuile."

The Ndiaël Collective, CNCR, ENDA Pronat, ActionAid Senegal, ActionAid Italy, Peuples Solidaires - ActionAid France, Re:Common, GRAIN, and The Oakland Institute are launching today an Urgent Appeal to get Tampieri to withdraw from the Senhuile project. "As concerned international organizations, we support the call of the communities for the project to be stopped and the land to be returned to the people," said Katia Roux, of Peuples Solidaires in France. "Local farmers and pastoralists need recognition and support to develop their own sustainable, small-scale food systems."

The organisations call on all concerned groups and individuals to participate in this action against this land grab in support of the Senegalese farmers and herders by sending a letter to Tampieri here:

Public events in Europe:

Ardo Sow, Ndiaël Collective (FR) -, +34 639 317989
Frédéric Mousseau, The Oakland Institute (EN, FR) -, +1 510 512 54 58
Katia Roux, Peuples Solidaires (FR, EN) -, +33 6 72321824

For more information:
- Oakland Institute, "Surrendering our future", 27 Feb 2014,
- Walking on the South, "Voices of Ndiaël", 27 Feb 2014,
- CRAFS/GRAIN/Re:Common, "Who is behind Senhuile-Senethanol?", 7 Nov 2013,




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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

[biofuelwatch] Vermont: The Little State THat Could?



Rachel Smolker Become a fan

Co-director, Biofuelwatch





Vermont: The Little State That Could?

Posted: 02/26/2014 9:01 am EST Updated: 02/26/2014 10:59 am EST

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Vermont Energy Natural Gas Climate Change Biomass Enbridge Pipeline Green News





I am fortunate to live in the tiny state of Vermont, a state that has boldly led the way on so many issues it's hard to list them all. We were the first to pass same-sex marriage and to take serious steps to make health care accessible to all. We outlawed billboards altogether and passed Act 250, a sophisticated mechanism for protecting the landscape against wanton development. That, in fact, led Vermont to be the last state in the nation to be colonized by Walmart. We were also the first state to ban fracking. We fought Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission long and hard demanding they shut down the dangerously rickety Yankee Nuclear power plant. Recently, at long last and against all odds, we "won" a semi-victory on that front.

Now Vermont has taken another bold step: denying permission for development of a dirty biomass burning facility, deceptively referred to as the North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project.

That facility would have burned 450,000 tons of wood annually, harvested from the "Green Mountain" state's just barely recovering forests. The state's Public Service Board is required to review big development proposals and issue (or deny) a "certificate of public good" (CPG) in order to proceed with the project. In this case, the decision was that the facility was not a public good. Many biomass facilities around the country and the world have not won permits, or have been abandoned en route to development due to economic concerns. But Vermont may be the first to deny a permit on the basis of sound reasoning.

The Springfield facility was denied on the basis that cutting and burning trees could not be assumed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Public Service Board commented that "the evidentiary record supports a finding that the Project would release as much as 448,714 tons of CO2e per year, and that sequestration of those greenhouse gases would not occur until future years, possibly not for decades, and would not occur at all in the case of forest-regeneration failures." They also concluded that it would be more cost effective to do energy conservation, efficiency and load-management than to burn 450,000 trees a year for a pittance of electricity. 

Vermont already has the wood-burning McNeil Generating Station, and the Ryegate biomass facility. Another new biomass facility is proposed and pending for the town of Fairhaven. These facilities, like others of their ilk, release about 50 percent more CO2 per unit of energy generated than a coal burning facility, and far more particulates (increasingly recognized as a cause of all manner of illnesses and diseases). And these facilities are shockingly inefficient, generally only around 25-35 percent efficiency, which means energy from one out of every 3 or 4 trees is captured while all must be cut and transported and all contribute to pollution and greenhouse gases. Vermont, the "green" state already ranks among tops in the nation for asthma and suffers the consequences of a veritable army of dirty residential wood heating stoves running at full throttle for half the year.

Burning up forests in inefficient facilities for a tiny bit of electricity is hardly "green" and certainly not clean. Besides, without billboards, how would we conceal the clear cuts and denuded landscapes from view of tourists, who come specifically to see the trees: a mainstay of the state's economy?

It is inspiring to see common sense dictate energy policies for a change. I can't help thinking of Vermont as "the little state that could." Big industries and developers roar down the tracks and flash their wares, assuring us our concerns are trivial and our values old-fashioned, or that we are too tiny to matter. But citizens in the state do not so easily roll belly up. As Gayle Coger Morabito, an activist involved in opposing the Springfield biomass facility stated: "We are reassured that our voices can be heard. It's hard work, but patience does pay off. We certainly have the facts and figures our side."

However, there seems to be a never-ending parade of challenges that keep parading down the tracks. Vermont Gas (owned by the Canadian Gaz Metro which transports gas from Alberta to Quebec and onwards) wants to extend a pipeline that would transport fracked gas across the state, under Lake Champlain to eventually supply the Ticonderoga pulp mill in New York State. Unfortunately, the Public Service Board, did recently grant a certificate of public good for the gas pipeline in spite of an outpouring of public opposition. Apparently transporting fracked gas through the state is a "public good" even if fracking in the state is deemed illegal. Resistance to that pipeline will likely advance to another level.

Meanwhile, Enbridge (part owner of GazMetro) is pushing yet another pipeline to transport tar sands oil across the northern edge of the state en route to Portland Maine for export. So far twenty-nine towns in the state have already passed resolutions opposing that one.

Even opposition to large-scale wind developments is raging in the state.

Vermont's senate just passed a bill that would enhance public participation in decision making about the siting of energy projects. Public participation is exactly what is needed.

So what will be the future of the little state that could? Vermont could shine a leading light on the path to a liveable future, focusing on reducing demand for energy rather than embracing the doctrine of endless growth, and looking towards small-scale, non-combustion renewables to fill essential needs. The state is already positioning itself at the forefront of the local food movement, and has long prioritized the protection of its landscape. Vermonters should be taking note of a nationwide and global trend: for better or worse, farm lands have become a hot commodity for investors seeking solid, reliable ways to use their money. Why? Because in the chaotic future we face, where environment and economy are on a collision course, food and water will be most assuredly paramount. Forests and healthy ecosystems will be our best defense against the ravages of a warming and polluted world.

A glance back through history reveals that the collapse of great civilizations has been directly linked to over-exploitation of natural resources. One can only hope that Homo sapiens can finally learn from that history. Vermont's decision not to stumble any further down the path towards burning its trees for electricity is a tiny but significant step in the right direction. If we can keep the pipelines and extraction industries out and focus on learning to live together and in balance, perhaps "the little state that could" will manage to deliver toys and treats to the children of the future after all.





Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker



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