Carbon Credit Program Won't Stop Clear-Cutting

Largest logger in the state allowed to continue destructive practice while profiting from sale of carbon offsets

By Jackson West
|  Friday, Sep 25, 2009  |  Updated 3:45 PM PDT
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Carbon Credit Program Won't Stop Clear-Cutting

Steve Ryan

Timber companies in the Sierra won't actually have to change their industrial logging practices in order to profit from trading carbon credits.

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California has officially approved a controversial new fee on utilities and other companies that spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as part of a bill signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.

However, companies can ultimately cut their state-imposed pollution costs by simply buying carbon offsets from companies that manage timberlands in the state on an open market within two years.

So will the loggers have to plant more trees in order to sell credits? Nope. They can go ahead and continue clear-cutting, the ugly but maximally profitable practice of denuding acres of forest at a time.

Companies like Sierra Pacific argue that with more light, new seedlings grow faster and therefore cleanse more carbon from the atmosphere.

However, clear-cutting requires smog-belching heavy equipment and is the most pollution-intense method of logging, argue environmentalists who also don't like the monocultures and loss of habit left in clear-cutting's wake.

And in a classic California twist, apparently the e-mail announcing the decision to allow companies to both clear-cut and cash in on carbon credits was sent hours before the Air Resource Board even voted on the decision.

It's yet another sign of the conflicted sentiment coming from the governor's office, where taxes and regulations are loathed and the environment loved.  Hence, markets are the solution to every problem, and if they aren't working, then just create a new one.

But one must question the sense in letting a company cut down trees and sell carbon credits -- since maintaining the status quo in the Sierra won't get us out of the global warming woods.

Photo by Steve Ryan.

Jackson West likes carbon trading and offset programs less and less the more he hears about them.

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