Citizen environmental advocates have sued the owners of a planned wood pellet manufacturing plant in Lumberton for alleged water pollution. Wood pellets are burned to produce energy, and are in demand in Europe. This is the latest case of a dirty industry bringing health and legal woes to North Carolina.
Last week, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed suit (PDF) on behalf of the Wynah Rivers Alliance against two corporations for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in the form of illegal, unpermitted wastewater discharges to the Lumber River. The complaint in federal District Court claims the companies are dumping toxic substances into the river, which has been designated a wild and scenic river that supports both private and commercial recreational activities.
Going by the name Active Energy, the companies are currently operating a sawmill and an unpermitted wastewater treatment facility on the Lumberton site, the plaintiffs say. “For almost two years, Active Energy has been violating laws that help keep the waters of our designated wild and scenic Lumber River safe and clean,” said Winyah Rivers Alliance’s Lumber Riverkeeper, Jefferson Currie II. “By refusing to even submit a wastewater permit application, this company is showing the community and our members how little it cares about the health and safety of the anglers, swimmers, boaters – everyone who lives in Lumberton and Robeson County.”
As the SELC news release further points out, “Residents of nearby communities that are predominantly Native American and Black already are exposed to multiple sources of industrial pollution.” Robeson County is one of the poorest in North Carolina, and especially vulnerable to the kind of environmental injustices alleged in this case.
Despite strong opposition, the Active Energy facility previously received an air quality permit to operate a wood pellet manufacturing facility on site. The facility plans call for using a patented process to produce “CoalSwitch” pellets intended to be burned as fuel for energy production, either along with or in substitution for coal. That process is not yet in operation.
Active Energy and its subsidiaries are also the target of other lawsuits by former employees and investors. An NC Policy Watch article last week describes “a Jenga tower of alter egos” by the various Active Energy entities, allegedly to escape various corporate liabilities. The parent corporation is based in Great Britain, and the North Carolina subsidiaries were set up to operate a facility here which was relocated from Utah under a legal cloud now crossing state and international lines.
North Carolina environmental advocates have long opposed the expansion of a wood-pellets-for-energy industry here, forecasting cascading environmental damage, local public health problems, and climate change impacts if it grows.