Appearing as tree huggers, utilities draw skeptical reaction from environmentalists.
At first glance, it looks like the same old story: Environmentalists versus utilities. But this time, the utilities are the ones fighting for the forests (em with a twist.
Utilities, major producers of carbon dioxide, believe they've found a cost-effective way to offset emissions through carbon sequestration, or sinks, which means converting pastures to forests or maintaining old-growth groves.
But environmentalists call it an easy way out. They say forest sinks only avoid the real issue (em installing control technologies at power plant sites to reduce emissions. Besides other faults, they say it's difficult to predict how much C02 can be stored in a forest sink and nearly impossible to prove. Carbon dioxide generally is accepted as the primary source of global warming.
"This is a red herring ... it isn't really a solution to the problem," says Steve Pedery of the Sierra Club. "In general, it's just an incredibly hard thing to enforce and police."
Proponents admit that there are flaws to the idea, yet maintain that utilities are exploring every option to mitigate the harmful effects of carbon dioxide. "There's no way that utilities are going to make this their sole way of dealing with CO2," says John Kinsman, manager, atmospheric science at the Edison Electric Institute. The EEI helped form and now manages UtiliTree Carbon Co., a nonprofit organization of 40 electric companies. "It's a small piece of the pie. ... No one is going to take this practice and ignore emissions."