Raleigh, North Carolina – Residents of some of the state’s poorest areas on Wednesday criticized state leaders for offering incentives to the pellet industry to move into their communities, polluting the air and water.
Wood pellets are a source of compressed pulp fuel, and the manufacturing process creates a lot of fine dust in the air.
The European Union classifies wood pellets as a renewable energy resource, and they are in high demand in EU countries, where they are burned to create electricity. North Carolina is the largest exporter of wood pellets to the United States
The production plants are located in predominantly black communities in five of North Carolina’s poorest counties. Community activists say it’s about environmental justice.
“I see our county as a dumping ground because anything other people don’t want is where they bring it,” said Belinda Joyner, a community activist from Northampton County, where a Enviva pellet plant is located.
The air pollution created by the factory is making people sick, Joyner said.
“How many people have to die?” she asked. “Profit on people has to stop.”
The growing industry clear-cuts forests – about 60,000 acres a year in North Carolina alone – for pulp processing.
Donna Chavis, from Robeson County, said she was constantly amazed at the loss of forests. Her Lumbee The community has been hit hard by two major hurricanes in the past five years, and they said logging has compounded the damage from the storm.
“Elders, farmers and homeowners bear witness to the added impact of storms due to the loss of trees that have always been used to alleviate the force of storms and floods,” said Chavis.
Industry officials have said the production of wood pellets is sustainable and responsible, and the companies operate within state law. The industry creates jobs for loggers, truckers and workers in rural areas where jobs are not plentiful, officials said.
“Enviva is committed to being a leader in sustainability and environmental compliance across all of its operations, and having a positive impact on the local communities where we operate is essential to this commitment,” the company said in a communicated. “While we respect freedom of expression and the right to protest, misinformation like this from activist groups about our business is detrimental to the common goals of fighting climate change and protecting health. public. “
But Reverend Richie Harding, founder of Gaston Youth, said the health impact of these jobs is too high a price to pay.
“Most of these facilities come in areas like mine: black neighborhoods where people just aren’t going to fight. They’re tired of fighting over and over again,” Harding said.
Campaigners want Environmental Quality Department regulators to take a tougher approach towards the industry, and they want the state to stop subsidizing it – the industry has received at least $ 7 million in funding. incentives to open and expand factories in North Carolina.
“The governor is firmly committed to a clean energy future for North Carolina,” Ford Porter, spokesperson for Governor Roy Cooper, said in an email to WRAL News. “He believes that environmental and equity impacts on communities must be factored into job creation, and he expects government officials to strictly follow the law when regulating this industry and its impacts.” environmental.
Activists staged a protest on Wednesday afternoon at the Administration Department building in downtown Raleigh, but it ended after being unable to enter.