As American foresters ramp up logging to meet the growing demand for wood pellets by power plants on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a new European wood energy proposal would allow the power plants to continue claiming their operations are green for at least 13 more years, despite releasing more heat-trapping pollution than coal.

Most of the wood fueling converted coal plants in England, Denmark, and other European countries is coming from North American forests. Each month, about 1 million tons of tree trunks and branches from southern U.S. pine plantations and natural forests is being turned into pellets and shipped to European power plants, mostly to Drax power station in the U.K.

The growing transatlantic trade is being financed with billions of dollars in European climate subsidies because of a regulatory loophole that allows wood energy to count as if it’s as clean as solar or wind energy, when in reality it’s often worse for the climate than burning coal. Only the pollution released when wood pellets are produced and transported is counted on climate ledgers. Actual pollution from the smokestack — by far the greatest source of carbon pollution from wood energy — is overlooked.

Rajan Zaveri/Climate Central

This flaw of treating bioenergy as “carbon neutral” is enmeshed in climate policies and models worldwide. Its impacts have become apparent in recent years as European power plants were encouraged to switch from coal to wood, and as the U.S. increased the amount of biofuel that must be blended into gasoline. Both policies are touted as green but are harming the climate and environment.

A proposal to extend the carbon neutral loophole for at least 10 more years was included in draft clean energy rules for 2021 to 2030, recently unveiled by the European Commission. The rules provide a regulatory path forward for ensuring the European Union meets its 2030 pledge under the Paris climate agreement. If they become law following votes in European Parliament, as currently drafted, that path forward would be paved with deceitful accounting practices.