Environmentalists want NC governor to halt pellet plants

Advocates for environmental justice and eastern North Carolina residents urged Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday to block permits for future wood pellet plants and pay more attention to their effects on health.

The activists, organized by the Dogwood Alliance coalition, came to Raleigh to deliver a petition to Cooper and other state agencies demanding that future industrial energy project permits that aren’t embraced within the state’s Clean Energy Plan be denied. Future subsidies and incentives to the industry also should be stopped, the petition says.

North Carolina has five wood pellet exports facilities, which the alliance said cuts down 60,000 acres of trees annually. State regulators have recently required air pollution controls at pellet mills run by Maryland-based Enviva in Northampton, Richmond and Sampson counties. British-based Active Energy Renewal Power is building operations in Robeson County for fuel created from wood and other agricultural crops for use in North America. 

Critics of wood pellet production contend the fuel source, which has become popular in Europe for firing power plants, is contributing to climate change overall and health problems for residents near where pellets are produced. The industry says the pellets are an alternative to coal-fired energy production. They can be produced from wood branches and other tree refuse that otherwise would be left to decay. 

These and other industrial projects that affect the environment negatively end up in areas like Northampton County, said Belinda Joyner, a county resident and longtime environmental advocate. Northampton is majority Black and disproportionately poor compared to the state overall. 

“My question is where is the concern for the people that are affected by this?” Joyner asked. 

Donna Chavis with the group Friends of the Earth called on Cooper to “follow the science. Supplying the globe with the false solution of wood biomass pellets adds to our climate crisis at home.”

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter defended Cooper’s environmental record, saying he’s “strongly committed to a clean energy future for North Carolina.” He cited Cooper’s executive order, which aims to make the state carbon neutral by 2050.

“He believes environmental and equity impacts on communities must be taken into account in job creation and he expects government officials to rigorously follow the law when regulating this industry and its environmental impacts,” Porter said. 

About 75 people attended a rally after the news conference in front of the Legislative Building before petitions were delivered.

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