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State Board Reviews Wood Pellet Industry

North Carolina’s governor-appointed environmental justice review board convened a special meeting last week to hear public concerns about the growing wood pellet industry in North Carolina.

Members of the Secretary’s Environmental Justice and Equity Board heard testimony from more than two dozen speakers at its special November 17 meeting. The speakers included scientists, representatives of concerned community groups, and neighbors of the plants. They expressed concern about dust, noise, air pollution, and other local impacts from the wood pellet manufacturing plants, as well as the overall adverse forest and climate impacts of the industry producing wood pellets as fuel for power generation.

A principal target of the criticisms was Enviva, the world’s largest wood fuel pellet manufacturer. Enviva’s four plants in North Carolina cut trees and process the wood into pellets for export to Europe. All four plants are located in poor rural counties, in communities with a majority of people of color. This makes the industry and its continued expansion a special concern for its environmental injustice impacts.

One climate scientist addressing the board, William Moomaw, said about the climate impacts, “When wood is burned, it releases more carbon dioxide immediately than does coal or any other fossil fuel to produce the same amount of energy or heat or electricity. Second, the forest that would have kept on growing would have accumulated three to 10 times as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by 2100 as would the regrown cut forest.”

The board already indicated its environmental justice concerns as part of its September 27 letter to NC Dept. of Environmental Quality Secretary Elizabeth Biser, in which it requested the special meeting. The timing of the board’s inquiries relates in part to a pending request from Enviva for a permit to expand its operations in Ahoskie. That request is highly controversial in the impacted community. 

The environmental justice board is expected to follow up its special meeting and hearing with further written recommendations to Secretary Biser concerning the wood fuel pellet industry in North Carolina.

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