Tag Archives: exports

Japan’s Wood Pellet Imports Surge

– January 29, 2016, Argus


Photo: Andrew Duke/HIE

Japanese wood pellet imports reached 232,000t last year, up by 140pc from 97,000t in 2014, data from Japan’s economy, trade and industry ministry showed.

The growing biomass market in Japan is driven by an increase in the number of power plants using woody biomass, including wood pellets, wood chips and waste wood, to generate heat and electricity.

Around 18 dedicated biomass plants with a combined capacity of 282MW became operational in 2015, burning a range of woody biomass fuels. And large power producers have increasingly looked towards co-firing coal with biomass.

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West Coast Wood Exports Undercut Economy and Environment

– by Samantha Chirillo, Energy Justice Network

Since the European Union (EU) countries set high carbon reduction standards and counted biomass energy as carbon neutral and renewable, biomass exports from the southeastern U.S. have skyrocketed.

Now, as Japan looks for an alternative to nuclear energy, as U.S. corporations get tax breaks to relocate facilities to the countries of least regulation, as trans-Pacific trade agreements give these corporations power over governments, and as Oregon’s Congressional delegation plans to log more public forest, west coast ports are preparing for log and biomass export expansion. In 2013 alone, log and chip exports from the northwestern U.S. already doubled, according to Public Interest Forester Roy Keene. Exports are the surest path to forest decline, as history has shown, says Keene.

Oregon may be the biggest loser, or at least the state with the most to lose, with a third of its total annual harvest volume exported as logs and chips, as Keene states in his article “Outsourcing Forests Costs Thousands of Jobs.” Oregon does not have stringent forest practice laws or headwater protections at the state level, like Washington and California do. Current bills to log the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) checkerboard public forest lands in Oregon fail to account for the large-scale clearcutting and poisoning of near Oregon’s intermingled private forests.

Oregon is losing economically, too. Oregon overall ranks 4th among all the states in the number of manufacturing jobs lost to offshoring, many of these in the wood products sector, when measured by population, according to Oregon Fair Trade Campaign and based on U.S. Department of Labor data. Without a sales tax, Oregon also loses revenue when facilities paying property taxes move overseas.

Of course, raw log exports from the northwestern U.S. have been increasing over the last few years, and wood chips also. Now, chip exports are increasing more rapidly than before as Asian demand increases. This means a drain on public forest resources and more drain on the Northwest economy. What would seem like a gradual occurrence feels more like a sudden rush.

One reason is a lack of environmental review, public process, or media coverage of export expansion until deals are already made. Permitting processes involve what unfortunately may be only temporary delays, as the west coast biomass export train seems to have already left the station.

The port proposal in Oregon with the most media attention so far has been the Port of Newport, which is negotiating with Teevin Bros. to operate a log exporting facility at the International Terminal on the north side of Yaquina Bay. Opponents include Citizens Seeking an Alternative to the Log Terminal (CSALT) and some Community Rights activists. A video of the October town hall meeting there can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jpoSlD4xlo In November, in case brought by Oregon Coast Alliance, among others, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals gave the traffic impact analysis for the proposal an incomplete, a minor setback perhaps.

Besides the Newport expansion, insider contacts tell of a new biomass pipeline and a new highway to Coos Bay, proposed by Roseburg Forest Products, one of the largest privately held timber companies in the U.S. The pipeline would move what is called a “slurry” of wood chips mixed with water. Vancouver, Washington also plans to expand its log and chip export capacity.

What does it mean to prepare a port for increased log and chip exports? In Newport, the plan involves building a 15-acre paved log yard on port property. Dredging, which damages habitat, is typically a major activity which removes silt and sediment that has accumulated on the bottom of the bay or river mouth, allowing larger vessels access. Road widening, more truck pollution, and more traffic noise are other complaints that port residents and some recreation and tourism businesses have.

For struggling port communities where some folks reminisce about the “good ol’ days” of massive log exports, export expansion sounds like a solution to their unemployment issue. Some, like industrial fishers, piggyback on the gained ability to move larger vessels year-round. Longshoremen with families celebrate the promise of having steady work again. But while export expansion benefits some jobs, exports in general subtract more, so increased timber harvest has not led to the increase in jobs that Oregon politicians promise.

According to Keene, between 2009 and 2012, the timber harvest increased 108 percent in Lincoln County, where Newport is located, while employment decreased. This disconnect is typical in counties dominated by industrial forests. Lane County, Oregon, for example, where Weyerhaeuser is the largest private landowner and the region’s main log exporter, saw a 75 percent increase in the timber harvest from 2009 to 2012 and a concurrent 14 percent decrease in wood products manufacturing jobs.

Export expansion and incentives for corporations to move facilities overseas have had a dangerous effect on local economies—not just from a lack of spending, but a lack of property tax when a facility moves overseas. Some facilities are the largest property owners in their communities, like Weyerhaeuser was in Longview, WA. According to Takeshi Owada, staffwriter forThe Asahi Shibun, in an August 27, 2013 article, a current trend is pulp and paper companies converting their facilities to produce biomass energy in Japan. Besides Tasmania and Australia, Japan is also sourcing biomass from the northwestern U.S., particularly Oregon. This is especially true since Japan seeks an alternative to nuclear energy.

While some politicians have called for review of the impacts of coal exports, they are silent or enabling on log and chip exports. Most notable are Oregon Congressmen Peter DeFazio, who opposes ‘free trade’ agreements and in the early 1990’s had a bill to end all log exports from public forests.  It was in the late 1980’s that much of the export from public forests ended. DeFazio, who became Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee this year, did not make this export ban part of his recent forest privatization bill (H 1526), which would remove public forests and their waterways from federal protection, placing them under Oregon’s draconian Oregon Forest Practices Act. DeFazio’s bill passed the House. Afterward, Congressman Doc Hastings (WA) came out with a post-disturbance public forest ‘salvage’ bill (H 3188), which has been opposed publicly by 250 scientists.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has taken the lead on the Senate version of forest legislation, the O&C Act of 2013. The bill number is not yet assigned, but the bill text is available here:http://www.wyden.senate.gov/priorities/oc-act-of-2013. None of these bills address the fact that an increase in raw log exports from private forestland have led to de facto substitution (increased logging) from public forests, nor do these bills address loopholes that allow pseudo-processed timber (delimbed, debarked wood all the way down to veneer) and wood chips from public forests to be exported, contrary to industry propaganda. Wyden also chairs the Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, and has refused to vote against ‘free trade’ agreements which open up foreign markets for Oregon’s forests. DeFazio, Wyden, and Senator Jeff Merkley are all strongly pro-biomass energy and pro-logging on public forests to fuel facilities. They also strongly urged the Environmental Protection Agency to defer biomass energy from carbon accounting.

Some also point a finger at environmental groups who have remained silent on the timber export issue, despite clear warning signs that the west coast has been following in the path of the east coast with exports. Some of the same environmental groups have also agreed to increased logging on public forests and got funded to participate in collaborations with the timber industry involving logging public forests under the guise of “restoration” and “fire fuels reduction” after the stalling of Wyden’s Eastside Forest bill.

A major element of Wyden’s current bill is doubling the cut on Western Oregon BLM public forests. To what extent these elements will ultimately be limited to Western Oregon BLM forests after House and Senate combine legislation is unclear. The dry and burned forests in Southern Oregon and public health will take a hit with the recent approval of the Iberdrola/Collins Pine biomass energy facility, in Lakeview, Oregon. Setbacks from Wyden’s bill could ultimately apply to forests in other states, too, at least as a bad precedent. Biomass energy opponents in Washington state are worried the abuse to Oregon may bleed over to their state, targeting Senator Cantwell (WA) as a result. Others are lobbying Senators Baldwin (WI), Franken (MN), Heinrich (NM), and Schatz (HI).

Other major elements of Wyden’s legislation include eliminating the “survey and manage” safety net for species provided in the Northwest Forest Plan, as well as eliminating public involvement and the litigative hooks under National Environmental Protection Act. Instead of having a review of each timber sale or project, there would be one generic mega-environmental impact statement for an entire BLM district, for example. As such, Wyden’s bill, rather than being a new and innovative policy, the bill extends and solidifies the new nature of forest management and protest against it at the landscape level. This new bill harkens back to Wyden’s Eastern Oregon forest bill, opposed by the Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign and 95 scientists, which failed to gain traction in Congress. Despite failing to pass into law, Oregon environmental groups nevertheless began their revenue shift from the timber sale litigation game to foundation funding for collaborations with the timber industry. These logging projects, some biomass extraction ‘pilot’ projects, had far less public oversight in the dry forests with unkempt roads of Eastern Oregon.

A major propaganda piece with Wyden’s bill applying to the wet Western Oregon forests is so-called “ecological forestry,” labeling the forestry approach, known as variable density regeneration harvest to generate complex early seral habitat (basically, biodiverse understory species). From the industry’s perspective, it’s less efficient than clearcutting their own private forestlands but more efficient than ‘thinning,’ which they claim has not met the original ‘sustained yield’ requirement for BLM (O&C land) forests, ignoring the requirement to also sustain waterways and recreation value. From the environmentalists’ perspective, punching large holes in the checkerboard landscape already riddled with them is tantamount to clearcutting, while they ignore the negative impacts of many ‘thinning’ projects, some which they collaborated on. From a forestry perspective, whether to do ‘thinning’ or regeneration harvest is worth considering but misses the fundamental systemic roadblock to either fair economic value to the public or preserving ecological integrity: the reality of how and why public timber is sold.

I visited the three main pilot projects with foresters and agency officials on which Wyden says he modeled his bill. Roy Keene and I visited the one with most media attention, the Myrtle Creek Project in the Roseburg BLM District both before and after the trees were sold and some now logged. Our “after” visit was November 5, 2013. Projects are broken up into sales after review. Included in this project is Unit 8, the site of a treesit, a rare, native, never-before-logged, biodiverse young old growth stand with biodiverse understory species, already sold to Roseburg Forest Products. Keene, a forester of more than 30 years, could not imagine finding, much less ‘generating’ any forest more precious in this area. This stand was bordered by complex early seral in a unit that had been previously heavily logged but allowed to renew naturally.

As we have seen with other projects, the fundamental problem needing the attention of the American public is the unfair economics and procedures of the federal timber sale program which stack the deck so that only the largest timber companies can buy any action and log our forests at a loss to the public, not even counting all the taxpayer subsidies for roads and biomass transport, for example. Project after project, Roy and I see that the agency is doing what it calls “restoration” logging small-diameter plantations (like the Buck Rising Timber Sale, also part of the Myrtle Creek Project) although sometimes merely regrowing them, on one hand, and logging what we consider young old growth (trees 80-120 years) to pay for logging the smaller trees on the other hand. Most of the older old growth has been logged out (“cherry-picked” as we call it) of most Western Oregon BLM stands already, so what is left is young old growth which is unlikely to get protected under any past or current legislation. Any of these young old growth that have a significant amount of cull wood (rot, damage) could legally be chipped and exported. No past or  current legislation addresses this.

A global battleground of sorts but filled with diversity and perhaps a source of more allies for biomass energy opponents is the fair trade movement. Recall the WTO protest in Seattle. Like the Occupy movement, nearly everyone can agree on the need to take back power from the corporate elite. Many on both sides Congress recently said they oppose fast-tracking these trade deals. They want information and deliberation. Perhaps the greatest danger of  these bad trade deals is all the power they give corporations over governments and people via “investor provisions.” If a government interferes with a corporation doing business, regardless of illegal activity, that corporation can sue the government (local, state, or federal) before a foreign tribunal. Corporations have gotten large amounts of money out of countries this way.

The U.S. recently finalized the South Korea Free Trade Agreement, and the pending bad trade agreement is like the combo deal of trade agreements, the TransPacific Partnership, opening up U.S. and Latin American forests to other Asian markets, like Japan, to produce biomass energy, and China to manufacture raw logs into finished products. China then “dumps” these back to us at prices U.S. manufacturers cannot compete with.

According to Forest2Market, “Russia’s market share, traditionally the largest supplier of Chinese logs, has continued to erode, leaving Chinese buyers to fill the shortage with deliveries from North America.” Russia placed a 25 percent tariff on log exports to protect its domestic industry. When Russia was accepted into the World Trade Organization, it agreed to lower log tariffs to 15 percent. According to Roy Keene, even a 15 percent tariff helps domestic mills compete for logs and creates revenue to offset unemployment and the collateral damage to forests from increased logging.

While Senator Merkley successfully pushed for arbitration upon Canada’s breach of the 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement. Canada had undercut U.S. prices on timber from British Columbia. However, Merkley has not been so outspoken about such unfairness between Asia or Europe and the U.S. Merkley has come out with his own trade reform bill, saying that his“Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act . . . would ensure that sub-standard wages, workplace safety practices, and environmental protections are properly accounted for as unfair subsidies by foreign countries when calculating American duties intended to offset cheating. It also rewards companies that meet high standards on a global basis in wages, workplace safety and environmental compliance with streamlined trade and protection from enforcement actions.” Fair trade advocacy groups, on the other hand, support the stronger version first introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), the 21st Century Trade and Market Access Act, which according to Citizens Trade “would reassert Congressional and public oversight over the TPP and future trade policies. It sets a range of binding negotiating requirements regarding labor rights, the environment, food safety . . .” For the latest on trade agreements and trade reform and what action is needed, go to www.citizenstrade.org

Some food for thought — even if you live in the Midwest or work for a high-tech firm, U.S. policies that create an unfair playing field in global markets, expand raw resource export, offshore jobs, and undercut environmental protections all promote the race to the bottom for all of us . Making Oregon a resource colony degrades the public forest resources of all Americans, makes Oregon even more revenue-dependent on the rest of the U.S., and sets a scary precedent. Of course, activism at home can sometimes relocate the exploitation somewhere else in the country or the world. If we wait till it’s our state or our job or our backyard, it’s too late.

Forests Could Face Threat from Biomass Power “Gold Rush”

– by Jamie Doward, The Observer

Britain’s new generation of biomass power stations will have to source millions of tonnes of wood from thousands of miles away if they are to operate near to their full capacity, raising questions about the claims made for the sustainability of the new technology.

Ministers believe biomass technology could provide as much as 11% of the UK’s energy by 2020, something that would help it meet its carbon commitments. The Environment Agency estimates that biomass-fired electricity generation, most of which involves burning wood pellets, can cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% compared with coal-fired power stations. Eight biomass power stations, including one in a unit in the giant Drax power station, are operating in the UK and a further seven are in the pipeline. None operates near capacity.

But now environmental groups are questioning where the new plants will source their wood if the technology takes off. A campaign group, Biofuelwatch, calculates in a new report that the UK could end up burning as much as 82m tonnes of biomass each year – more than eight times the UK’s annual wood production. If Drax were to operate at full capacity, it alone would get through 16m tonnes of wood a year, according to the report, which claims a Europe-wide demand for biomass is triggering a “gold rush” for wood pellets that could have implications for global land use.

The report highlights the example of Portugal, where 10% of the country is now covered by eucalyptus plantations much of which is used for biomass energy production. Two campaign groups, the Dogwood Alliance and the US Natural Resources Defence Council, have issued critical reports about the way that forests in the southern states of the US are being used for biomass production. There are also concerns that tracts of Brazil are being used to supply the wood pellets.

But the concerns have been fiercely rejected by the biomass industry. Enviva, which supplies Drax with wood pellets, said its biomass came mainly from offcuts from poor-quality trees that are left over from those grown for the construction and paper industries. It said it would be uneconomic to cut down forests purely for biomass and that the cost of shipping a tonne of wood pellets from the east coast of the US to the UK was similar to transporting the same amount some 225 miles within the UK. It said that even the most optimistic forecasts for global wood pellet demand suggested it would not exceed 40m tonnes – equivalent to 80m tonnes of wood – a year by 2020.

“Biomass is the only renewable energy source that can replace coal quickly and cost-effectively, providing the same operational benefits while dramatically improving the environmental profile of energy generation,” a company spokesman said.

MGT Power, which is behind a proposed biomass plant on Teesside, potentially the largest of its kind in the world, told the Observer it had dropped plans to source its wood from Brazil, although it denied this was to do with sustainability concerns.

A spokesman said that biomass could be an important green technology for the UK. “We feel very strongly that biomass can provide energy at lower prices than offshore wind,” the spokesman said.

Outsourcing Forests Costs Thousands of Jobs

– by Roy Keene

Log and chip exports, constituting a third of Oregon’s annual timber harvest, are outsourcing over a billion board feet of wood and thousands of domestic manufacturing jobs. Yet Barnum fails to even mention exports, let alone account for the losses. As director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI), he also fails to disclose his employer’s mission and funding source.

OFRI’s legislated mission is to “Enhance and provide support for Oregon’s forest products industry.” Funded with forest harvest taxes, OFRI benefits from increased logging regardless of whether the logs are processed domestically. Does Barnum’s analysis omit log exports to “enhance” and “support” the region’s largest corporate forest owners?

As a panelist at a town hall meeting in Newport, I explored the implications of increased log exports and a proposal to greatly expand export shipping from the Port of Newport. Similar to Coos Bay’s log and chip export expansion, this will require dredging Yaquina Bay and dramatically increasing log truck traffic in the city’s downtown. Jeopardizing projected growth in the tourism, service and health sectors to add a couple dozen jobs seems a poor trade for the larger public.

Citizens were further ruffled to discover that between 2009 and 2012, the timber harvest increased 108 percent in Lincoln County while employment reportedly decreased. This disconnect is typical in counties dominated by industrial forests.

Lane County, for example, where Weyerhaeuser is the largest private landowner and the region’s main log exporter, saw a 75 percent increase in the timber harvest from 2009 to 2012 and a concurrent 14 percent decrease in wood products manufacturing jobs.

A fellow panelist and critic of escalating log and chip exports, Greg Pallesen, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, also connected the dots. He described the devastating effects on local workers and communities not only from log and chip exports, but from the relocation of entire plants overseas to capitalize on cheap labor and offshore tax breaks. They then “dump” wood products back to us at prices domestic manufacturers can’t compete with.

Guess where these outsourced plants export logs and chips come from.

Barnum challenges critics of Oregon’s forest industry to “take a fresh look.” Even non-critics recognize that log exports are escalating. Gordon Culbertson, manager of Forest2Market, notes increasing export demands, saying “Asian appetite for Northwest forest products strengthened in the second half of 2012 and looks strong moving into the New Year.” Such strengthening is ominous for those genuinely concerned with local jobs and forests.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, Northwest log exports, led by Oregon, jumped 28 percent in the second quarter of 2013 compared to the first, totaling 540 million board feet. “Demand from China is the major reason for the increased log exports.” said Xiaoping Zhou, a research economist who compiled the data.

Forest2Market further notes that “Russia’s market share, traditionally the largest supplier of Chinese logs, has continued to erode, leaving Chinese buyers to fill the shortage with deliveries from North America.”

This is because Russia placed a 25 percent tariff on log exports to protect its domestic industry. When Russia was accepted into the World Trade Organization, it agreed to lower log tariffs to 15 percent. Even a 15 percent tariff helps domestic mills compete for logs and creates revenue to offset unemployment and the collateral damage to forests from increased logging.

Burning trees for power looms as a further threat to our already beset forests. The Japanese government now subsidizes mills to burn wood chips as “clean” power. Sound familiar? Reflecting Japan’s growing aversion to nuclear power, the country’s wood chip demands are expanding.

A newspaper article by Takeshi Owada, “Paper makers seeing profit potential in biomass power industry,” notes that “As increased numbers of manufacturers enter the biomass power generation industry, they will face shortages. Chips from their own forests will be insufficient to ensure stable power generation, requiring purchasing supplies from abroad.”

A country that once exported mature timber from Oregon now wants chips from teenage trees — trees logged off federal lands as well as private.

Oregon’s forests, less protected than those in Washington or California, are getting Third World treatment. Oregon’s legislators and institutes are not only failing to protect our forests, but condoning or proposing policies that will export more unfinished wood and jobs. One has to wonder whether, like Barum and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, our legislators and institutes stand to be rewarded by their efforts to increase logging!

Roy Keene is timberland broker and forest consultant in Eugene.