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U.S. Public Forests Are Cashing In on Dubious Carbon Offsets

State and local governments stand to earn tens of millions of dollars from managing forests in ways that will deliver few new climate benefits, while corporations get to take credit for reducing emissions.

In late 2020, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources signed a deal with Blue Source to begin developing a carbon project on Pigeon River Country state forest.

In late 2020, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources signed a deal with Blue Source to begin developing a carbon project on Pigeon River Country state forest.

Photographer: Erin Kirkland/Bloomberg

A flurry of state and local governments in the U.S. are enrolling public-owned forests in carbon projects that could earn them tens of millions of dollars but provide little new help in the fight against climate change. It’s another episode that illustrates how the carbon market — intended as a method for corporations to cut their carbon footprints — is delivering far fewer benefits than advertised.

The State of Michigan and five counties in Wisconsin recently inked agreements with Blue Source, LLC, a carbon development firm in Salt Lake City, to create projects on approximately 800,000 acres. That’s about three-times more public land than is currently generating carbon credits in the U.S. These projects are expected to begin selling credits later this year or in 2023. At least a dozen more Wisconsin counties and several other states are considering following suit, according to county documents and interviews with public officials.