Plaintiffs appeal EU court ruling on wood biomass

By Erin Voegele | July 13, 2020

The U.S. Industrial Pellet Association on July 13 issued a statement expressing disappointment that a recent European court ruling regarding the inclusion of wood biomass in the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive is being appealed.

The group of plaintiffs representing groups in Estonia, France, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia and the U.S. first filed a lawsuit in the European General court on March 4, 2019, claiming that the use of forest biomass increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The European Court of Justice on May 11 dismissed the case, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the EU’s inclusion of wood biomass in the RED. The decision was applauded by members of the biomass industry, including USIPA.

The plaintiffs, however, are appealing the court’s dismissal. USIPA said the upper court will hear the plaintiffs’ appeal solely on the issue of whether or not the lower court was correct in its application of long-settled EU law and precedent related to standing.

“This last ditch effort to appeal the lower court’s decision on standing (which is based on long settled international law), shows this appeal, and in fact, the entire case, is nothing more than a public relations exercise masquerading as a lawsuit,” said Seth Ginther, executive director of USIPA. “The multi-year process for including sustainable biomass as a form of renewable energy within RED II was one of the most transparent, inclusive and exhaustive processes available whereby critics had the chance to vet their theories as it relates to biomass.  After hearing all of the data, evidence and expert testimony, the EU reconfirmed what science and academia have said all along—sustainable biomass is a key component to the EU meeting its renewable energy targets. While we certainly do not want to dissuade critics from exercising all of their legal rights under international law, our industry would encourage truly constructive measures to foster dialogue and address concerns.”

Information released by USIPA states that the body of academic research, studies and papers documenting the climate and forest benefits of wood biomass continues to grow. This includes the UN IPCC’s latest Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

USIPA also stressed that wood biomass is currently the EU’s largest single source of renewable energy, and is a key technology for achieving the bloc’s climate goals set out in the Green Deal. Biomass enables European power generators to repurpose existing coal-based infrastructure with a renewable alternative that reduces the carbon intensity of electricity generation by up to 85 percent on a life-cycle basis.

According to USIPA, the U.S. exported nearly 6 million metric tons of biomass to the EU last year. That material was primarily sourced from the states in the U.S. Southeast, which is one of the largest and most sustainably managed wood baskets in the world. USIPA cited USDA data that shows the wood volume in the Southeast region of the U.S. has increased by more than 21 percent since 2000. That data also shows that landowners in the region are currently growing 43 percent more wood than they remove each year. Forest economists have noted that forest stocks in the region have been increases because markets for wood products, such as biomass, provide financial incentives for landowners to keep investing in the continual cycle of thinning, harvesting and replanting trees.