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Trees C02 Eaters*

December 10, 2003


If an Oak Eats CO2 in a Forest,

Who Gets the Emissions Credit?

American Power Giant Taps

Trees to Counter Threat

Of Greenhouse-Gas Rules



JONESVILLE, La. -- On the same afternoon this fall that the Senate was debating whether to force U.S. companies to cut their carbon-dioxide emissions, Gary Kaster was tromping around dirt fields here in the Mississippi River Delta, hunting for a cheap way to help get the nation's power industry off the global-warming hook.

"This is what our carbon units are going to look like," the 56-year-old forester said, approaching an oak that had shot up to a height of about 12 feet in eight years. He took out his digital camera and snapped a shot to send to his bosses at American Electric Power Co. AEP emits more CO2 than any other power company -- and probably any other company -- in the U.S., the biggest CO2-emitting nation in the world.

Even though the Bush administration is rejecting international efforts to cap CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the U.S. power industry expects to get hit sooner or later with some sort of limit. So the industry is looking to trees to hedge its bets.

Trees sop up CO2, believed to be the main culprit in global warming. They store the carbon in everything from the roots to the trunk to the leaves. With its fertile soil and its long growing season, the delta is one of the most efficient places in the U.S. to grow trees. And, because of massive tree cutting in the area during the 1960s and 1970s, the delta needs reforestation. The power industry figures it's the perfect place to grow some carbon-packing forests -- known as "carbon sinks."

But the industry is discovering that planting trees as carbon sinks raises all sorts of knotty questions. How do you count the amount of CO2 the trees soak up? What happens when the trees that store the most carbon aren't the best trees for a local ecosystem? Should a company get credit for helping plant trees on land that the government is already paying owners to reforest?



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