Proposed wood chip project in Lassen County draws heavy fire from community and environmental groups

Publisher’s note: Golden State Natural Resources’ Board of Directors is made of members of elected boards of supervisors — Supervisor Matt Kingsley, Inyo County Supervisor Michael Kobseff, Siskiyou County Supervisor Geri Byrne, Modoc County Supervisor Rex Bohn, Humboldt County Supervisor Doug Teeter, Butte County.   GSNR is affiliated with the Rural County Representatives of California.

An international coalition rejects the wildfire mitigation and rural jobs claims as Golden State Natural Resources and the scandal plagued UK company Drax attempt to fast-track proposal in underserved South Stockton.

The coalition of local, national and international groups is raising concerns to inform Stockton community members about its highly controversial industrial-scale wood pellet project that proposes to make pellets from trees logged on 16 national forests.

The project would build two industrial plants in Tuolumne and Lassen counties and produce one million tons of compressed wood fiber pellets a year, to be stored and shipped from the Port of Stockton and sold in Asia.  Last month GSNR entered into an agreement with UK-based biomass company Drax to undertake the project. Exporting the pellets requires approval from the Port of Stockton.

Community and environmental groups strongly dispute GSNR’s claims that the project will mitigate wildfire risk and contribute to rural economic growth. They warn that export operations would significantly pollute South Stockton – a historically underserved Filipino neighborhood.

Gloria Alonso Cruz, environmental justice coordinator at Little Manila Rising, said: “Our community is in danger. If the Port of Stockton buys into the GSNR scheme, South Stockton will get hit with even more harmful pollution, noise and traffic. We are already overburdened with severe health risks from existing toxic air pollution. South Stockton understands the lasting trauma and sacrifices of the past, and we rise in opposition to GSNR’s project because we deserve development that values our health, well-being, and is non-emissive. We deserve to not be treated as a sacrifice zone.”

Until the 1960s, South Stockton had the largest population of Filipinos in the world outside of the Philippines. Previously, GSNR planned to also export its wood pellets from the Port of Richmond on the San Francisco Bay, but the community rejected the project in 2023. The Port of Stockton has a similar offramp, however GSNR is attempting to fast-track the project through minimal community engagement events and greenwashing wood pellet biomass.

Rita Vaughan Frost, Forest Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “The GSNR proposal isn’t really about wildfire mitigation or rural jobs, it’s about corporate profit. Industrial-scale wood pellet projects meant for overseas energy markets, like those owned by Drax, won’t solve California’s wildfire problem, and it can actually make the problem worse. This is a dangerous misuse of valuable time and resources that are needed for real solutions.Destructive wildfire is something we must address — but not by harming California’s vulnerable communities and forests.”

Matt Holmes, Project Director for Valley Improvement Projects, said: “GSNR claims that the proposed project will create rural jobs, lessen wildfire risk and even improve air pollution levels. It would be great if any of that were true, but it’s just a sales pitch. This project would create more pollution, increase fire risk and provide only low-paying jobs with dangerous working conditions.”

Dr. Shaye Wolf, Climate Science Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “This dirty and dangerous project would endanger Stockton neighborhoods, pollute the climate and plunder our forests, while failing to keep communities safe from wildfire. Instead of fueling the climate emergency and harming environmental justice communities, California should protect people from wildfire by doing what works: Proven home fire safety retrofits focused in communities.”

Dan Howells, Climate Campaigns Director at Green America, said: “Investing money and infrastructure in the wood pellet industry is a wrong turn when it comes to the energy transition. It’s also ironic that GSNR and Drax – the British company now infamous for destroying precious old growth forests in Canada and polluting minority communities in the South – are using environmental-protection arguments as a rationale for their proposal.”

Almuth Ernsting, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch, said: “The involvement of Drax on this project should raise serious red flags. Across the world, the company has repeatedly been exposed as an untrustworthy steward of the environment and a terrible neighbor to the communities where it operates. Unfortunately, everything about this proposed project already seems to fit the pattern.”

The new developments in California come as the global wood pellet industry faces fierce economic headwinds. On March 12, the largest industrial wood pellet supplier in the world, Maryland-based Enviva, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Even with the help of billions of dollars in government subsidies, the company’s operations continue to struggle.

On March 20, Drax was accused by regulators in Washington state of starting construction on a wood-pellet facility without receiving the needed air discharge permit. The company never submitted an application, which violates Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency rules.

In February, a BBC investigation revealed that a Drax power plant was burning wood from protected old-growth forests in Canada. Documents from British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests show the company took more than 40,000 tons of wood from “no-go areas.” While the company disputed the claims, BBC also obtained video footage of logs being taken from the protected forest to a facility owned by Drax.

In 2022, Drax was accused of “environmental racism” for putting wood pellet plants in majority-Black communities with high poverty rates. It paid two settlements of $1.6 million apiece to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for claims against two of its plants. In 2019, Drax was fined $2.5 million for air pollution violations in Mississippi.

Over the years, Drax’s business has been heavily subsidized by the UK government because of a policy quirk that considers wood pellet energy to be “renewable.” Paradoxically, that means a single power station operated by Drax that generates 8 percent of the UK’s purported “renewable” electricity is also the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country. The thinktank Ember estimated Drax will collect more than £11 billion in renewable energy subsidies between 2012 and 2027, and will apply for another £31 billion in additional subsidies when that money runs out.

Vaughan Frost added: “When you look at how the biomass industry actually works, it’s shocking that companies are receiving billions in renewable energy subsidies. That amount of money would be much better spent investing in grid modernization, energy efficiency and real renewable energy like solar and wind. Investing in wood pellet schemes is like lighting money on fire, in more ways than one.”

About these organizations
Little Manila Rising serves the South Stockton community, developing equitable solutions to the effects of historical marginalization, institutionalized racism and harmful public policy. LMR offers a wide spectrum of programs that address education, environment, redevelopment and public health. LMR values all people’s unique and diverse experiences and wishes to see the residents of South Stockton enjoy healthy, prosperous lives. littlemanila.org/

Natural Resources Defense Council is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Green America is the nation’s leading green economy organization. Founded in 1982, Green America provides the economic strategies, organizing power and practical tools for businesses and individuals to solve today’s social and environmental problems. GreenAmerica.org

Valley Improvement Projects strives to reach-out to low-income and working class communities, communities of color, immigrants, Spanish-speakers, LGBTQ community, religious minorities, indigenous communities, youth, elders, people with disabilities, houseless community, and many others who carry the extra burdens of our society. valleyimprovementprojects.org/

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. biologicaldiversity.org/

Biofuelwatch provides information and undertakes advocacy and campaigning in relation to the climate, biodiversity, land and human rights and public health impacts of large-scale industrial bioenergy.  We are a small team of staff and volunteers based in Europe and the USA. biofuelwatch.org.uk/.