In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them.
On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia.
While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it's still boom time.
The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement.
"There were groups that were adamant that biomass should be treated as carbon neutral for regulatory purposes, yet that sort of defied the science," said Janet McCabe, a former top EPA air quality official in the Obama administration who now teaches law at Indiana University. "There were other groups that were equally adamant that was only not only incorrect as a matter of science but would lead to a really dangerous climate policy."
EPA convened a panel "to create scientific clarity," but the panel did not conclude its work before the administration left, she said.
McCabe and others said they don't know what EPA might propose.