19 March, 2012

Windsor opposes forestry burning plan

David Wroe
The Age, March 19, 2012

A CONTROVERSIAL push by crossbench MP Rob Oakeshott to allow forestry companies to earn renewable energy subsidies by burning native forest wood looks set to be shot down, with fellow independent Tony Windsor refusing to back the deal.

Mr Oakeshott's move, which infuriated the Greens and sparked a vigorous environmental campaign, appears likely to fall short of a majority when it goes to the Parliament this week, mostly likely today.

A regulation created under the government's carbon tax deal with the Greens and independents has banned loggers from earning renewable energy certificates — which can be sold for cash — by burning native forest wood to make electricity.

Mr Oakeshott's move to disallow that regulation is aimed at waste wood created by timber logging. But green groups argue that it would also throw a financial lifeline to the woodchip industry — which is struggling amid slumping exports — by giving it a new source of revenue. Mr Windsor, who had previously been thought to support the motion, told The Age: "I won't be supporting it in the House."

Mr Oakeshott acknowledged that "if everyone turns up, it'll probably lose by one". "But [I'm] still working on it," he added. "There's a whole range of things that can change the dynamic."

Mr Oakeshott said biomass such as wood waste was a "genuinely renewable energy". If it were not burnt for electricity, it would either be burnt as waste or decay naturally, emitting carbon anyway, he said.

"It has been a disgraceful campaign by GetUp!, the [Australian Youth Climate Coalition] and the Greens," he said.

But the Greens argue Mr Oakeshott's motion would just encourage more logging of native forests by giving the woodchip industry a new economic incentive. "We are working extremely hard to make sure that this tightening of the rules around renewable energy stands," said the party's deputy leader Christine Milne.

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