The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is rushing to approve a project to lease state trust lands to a private interest without conducting a thorough environmental review, and the agency is failing to consider the project’s impacts on funding for schools and other public services as required by the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
The DNR is proposing to withdraw approximately 10,000 acres of state trust lands from sustainable timber harvests and issue 40-year leases to undisclosed private interests to sell credits on unregulated, voluntary carbon markets. Forest carbon offsets have been at the center of numerous investigations documenting cases of questionable climate benefits, fraud, and the need for greater regulation and oversight (ProPublica, The Guardian, Bloomberg).
Today the DNR concluded a brief 14-day public comment period after rejecting requests from beneficiaries, local governments, state legislators and the forest sector to extend the comment period and give the public more time to analyze the project and provide comment. The DNR has also failed to respond to letters it has received from about two dozen legislators, including an April 19 letter from legislative leaders and an April 25 letter from 22 legislators from central and eastern Washington.
The American Forest Resource Council joined state trust land beneficiaries in calling on the DNR to properly and legally account for how their “carbon project” affects Washington’s environment, climate goals, communities, wildlife, and the current and future management of these working forests. In addition to providing timber and funding for essential community services, state trust lands also provide recreation, wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, climate-friendly wood products and many other benefits to Washington residents.
“DNR’s carbon project undermines Washington state’s efforts to address climate change, all to reward corporate polluters at the expense of our rural communities, working forests, and the environment,” said AFRC President Travis Joseph. “Despite previous commitments to Washingtonians, the agency is ignoring good governance and transparency standards by failing to disclose the project’s environmental impacts and is shutting out beneficiaries and the public from the process.”
In submitted comments to the agency, AFRC highlighted more than a dozen environmental impacts of the carbon project that DNR has failed to consider, analyze, or disclose to the public. This includes impacts of the carbon project to addressing Washington’s forest health crisis, insect and disease outbreaks, the growing risks of catastrophic wildfire that are a major source of carbon pollution, and the substitution of climate-friendly wood products for steel and concrete to meet Washington’s needs.
“According to DNR, wildfires in Washington state generated 39.2 million metric tons of carbon from 2014-2018, the equivalent of more than 8.5 million cars on the road a year. These wildfires generate massive carbon emissions while they are actively burning, but also will continue to passively emit carbon for years to come if fire-killed trees are left to decay and emit carbon back into the atmosphere. These emissions dwarf any perceived potential short-term carbon benefits of deferred harvests from the carbon project,” AFRC wrote.
The DNR’s carbon project is also expected to cost beneficiaries millions of dollars that would otherwise be used to improve public school facilities, provide health care to underserved residents, purchase emergency equipment for firefighters and first responders, and support regional libraries, among other public priorities. According to the DNR’s own estimates, the agency expects carbon leases to generate approximately 90 percent less revenue than traditional timber harvests – a loss of approximately $157.5 million.
“Sustainably managing our forests based on science is one of our best climate solutions. Selling carbon credits to polluters for pennies on the dollar so corporations can continue business-as-usual is not a climate solution,” Joseph said. “We’re asking that DNR follow the law by providing a fair and honest environmental accounting of this proposal, disclose it to the public, and to listen to those most impacted. Our requests for greater transparency, analysis, and public involvement have been ignored.”