Seattle Times strikes out on biomass


The Seattle Times dropped the ball in its front-page story this week on the biomass industry. As the story points out, Washington is one of the country’s leading producers of biomass power, with a dozen plants operating and four more in the works. So taking a look at the state of the industry is a legitimate news story.

Unfortunately, the Times allowed the views of environmental groups to take control of its story, shifting it from a fair-minded look at the industry to a polemic that inaccurately portrays the industry as struggling, when in fact biomass is one of the fastest-growing energy industries in the world, with the support of the Obama administration and local and federal elected officials across the political spectrum.

The Times article cites “new studies” and “sophisticated calculations” that purportedly question the greenness of biomass, but the evidence is nowhere to be seen in the story. The only study cited is a study out of Massachusetts from June 2010 that has been widely discredited and whose own authors have said was misreported by the media and environmental groups. (We wrote about the study here and here.)

The Times’ reliance on a single study, as well as an inaccurate description of its conclusions, was so egregious that the Washington Department of Natural Resources posted a response to the story’s errors this week.

Here is an excerpt:

The (Times) article refers to a study commissioned by the Massachusetts’ Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences to report that using biomass for energy is “more polluting …than coal”.  This claim, widely circulated in the media when the study was first published, has been repudiated by Manomet as a misinterpretation of their findings in June of 2010.

The Massachusetts study is actually the only major study that the press or biomass opponents can hang their hat on, and yet that study does not even make the conclusions that environmental groups try to claim it does.

Biomass is still a new technology, but the only “challenge” to the growing biomass industry is from environmental groups who don’t have the facts on their side. Their views are worth reporting, but the Times treated them as gospel, which shattered the credibility of the paper’s story.

What is clear is that biomass isn’t just carbon neutral; it gives forest owners an economic incentive to keep their land free from development, provides jobs for struggling rural communities and is one of our country’s most promising clean energy sources.