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E-M:/ Are Michigan's "wood to wheels" initiative and wood for electric generation throwing MI Forests under the bus?

Are Michigan’s forest resources and the state’s laws and policies regarding sustaining these precious natural resources actually ready to deal with the state’s encouragement of extensive development of woody biomass and biofuels from wood?  Below is an excerpt from the Governor’s press release today on the first “commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant” to be located in the UP -- what isn’t said but we have to assume is that no one is pretending anymore that this is just about “waste wood”.  


And since Michigan forest products companies have long fought against any “forest practices act” for private forest lands, has anyone figured out whether this is just the leading edge of the second era of timber baron’s stripping the land?  The Renewable Fuels Commission’s Interim Report talks about sustainability, but goes to lengths to explain that in their recommendations that sustainability means a “balance” of economic, social and environmental.  Those kinds of “balances” pretty much always end up with the state’s future and natural resources on the losing end. Where “sustainable” shows up in the press release below is not in a commitment to assure that the forests committed to this will be managed sustainably -- it is just in the buzzwords that are thrown in as comfort food for the ears of concerned conservationists.


Does anyone else see the irony of cutting our forests so SUV, ATV, snowmobile and other drivers can drive through cut over forestlands using cellulosic ethanol?  How can it be that the greatest value to the state from our forest resources (which are still, by the way, recovering from the timber barons of the late 19th/early 20th centuries) is to burn or distill the wood so we can maintain unsustainable energy consumption levels?  Heck, Michiganders have traditionally fought all efforts to raise CAFÉ standards for automobiles -- where is the commitment up front to stop wasting fuel and electricity before we say “yah” to electric generation and cellulosic ethanol from our forests?


With this commitment and others that are undoubtedly lined up, is the administration choosing to shut the door on higher, better uses with more value added of the woods in our state?  A boom/bust cycle tied to a thoughtless process of committing our forests to be burned or fermented doesn’t sound like a plan that will help anyone long term. Undoubtedly the first response here will be to say that of course there is concern about actual sustainability.  So why isn’t THAT said anywhere in the policies affecting the 12 million acres of private forestlands in the state today, nor in a press release like this?? 








Granholm Says Mascoma Agreement Puts Michigan at Forefront of Next Generation Fuels


June 27, 2008


Historic investment set for production facility in U.P.'s Chippewa County


LANSING - Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and Mascoma Corporation CEO Bruce A. Jamerson today announced that the Massachusetts-based company has entered into a series of key strategic relationships to further Mascoma's efforts to build its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.


Agreements with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), JM Longyear, and alliances formed with Michigan State University (MSU) and Michigan Technological University (MTU) will help bring the plant to Chippewa County, south of Sault Ste. Marie, where clean-burning, fuel-grade ethanol will be produced from wood fiber.  The agreements build on Mascoma's decision announced last July to locate in Michigan.


"Long before the current run-up in petroleum prices, we declared Michigan's intention to lead the nation in alternative energy production and help reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Granholm said.  "Mascoma's next generation biomass-to-ethanol technologies are integral to wide-scale ethanol production, and this plant will put Michigan on the leading edge of technology that will create good-paying jobs for Michigan citizens."


Mascoma's single-step cellulose-to-ethanol method, called consolidated bioprocessing, or CBP, uses advanced technologies to make ethanol from non-food based renewable sources such as wood chips and other biomass.  The clean-energy technology is critical to producing ethanol more quickly, efficiently and economically. 


Mascoma chose Michigan for its first commercial-scale facility based on the vast sustainable forests and agricultural materials available and the expertise provided by JM Longyear.  In addition, Mascoma will collaborate with MSU and MTU to develop and hone scientific processes that utilize Michigan feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production.


"Working with the state of Michigan, two of its leading universities, and JM Longyear on this significant project brings us closer to commercial scale production of biofuels that can promote energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulate regional economic development," Jamerson said.







Anne M. Woiwode, State Director

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter - 109 E. Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906  - 517-484-2372    anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org

Visit us at http://michigan.sierraclub.org/index.shtml


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"The idea of shifting to a carbon-free society appears to be technically feasible. The question is whether it's politically feasible or economically feasible."

Brian O'Neil, National Center for Atmospheric Research