The Biden administration is weighing whether to award renewable energy tax breaks under the Inflation Reduction Act to a power source worse for the climate than burning coal, Inside Climate News reports. Wood was the United States’ largest energy source throughout the 18th, and most of the 19th century, and wood pellet manufacturers are lobbying the IRS hard to implement carbon accounting metrics in the U.S. similar to those that have led to the increase in wood-burning in Europe and the UK.

The Treasury Department (which includes the IRS) is expected to make a decision by the end of this month. In late January, a group of House Democrats called on the DOE and IRS to reject tax breaks for “carbon-intensive, industrial-scale wood pellet bioenergy producers … which operate wood pellet mills in the U.S. Southeast and then export pellets to biomass power plants in Europe and Asia.”

Wood pellet harms

The proliferation of wood pellet manufacturing in the American South to meet European demand has inflicted dire, and drastically disproportionate harms on the Native, Black, and poor communities where the facilities are typically built. I “Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity,” more than 800 scientists wrote in a 2021 letter to the Biden administration.

Manufacturers’ claims that wood pellets are made only from waste products are dubious, and carbon capture is unworkable, IEEFA energy data analyst Anika Juhn says, because burning wood produces “all kinds of pollutants you need to clean out before you can capture the C02.” Furthermore, even if forests are allowed to regrow and are not burned but wildfires — neither of which is guaranteed — they will not pull carbon out of the atmosphere quickly enough to keep pace with the emissions reductions required to meet the Paris Agreement goals. (Inside Climate News; IRS deliberations: New York Times $)