New Research Finds Wood Pellet Facilities Are 50% More Likely to be Located in Environmental Justice Designated Communities

Study Found that All Wood Pellet Facilities in North and South Carolina Have Been Built in these Communities

Asheville, NC, April 18, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A new research paper, “Siting of Wood Pellet Production Facilities in Environmental Justice Communities in the Southeastern United States” has been published this month in Environmental Justice, a peer reviewed scientific journal, by Sam Davis, research manager at Dogwood Alliance and Stefan Koester, of Tufts University. The paper examines the burgeoning wood pellet production industry in the Southern United States, where the facilities are increasingly marred by controversy around self-proclaimed statements of being “clean” and “green” energy.

As efforts to decarbonize the electric sector take on increased urgency, governments are turning to wood pellets as a potential renewable energy resource. This is especially true in Europe, which has become the world’s largest importer of wood pellets for use in electricity facilities. However, the production of pellets from woody biomass has immediate community-wide impacts on air and water quality.

Wood pellet production facilities release fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds in the air while operating, which can place a substantial burden on nearby communities already struggling with other polluting industries in the area.  Davis and Koester examined the relationship between locations of wood pellet production facilities and the economic and racial diversity of areas where they are located. The authors found that wood pellet production facilities in the southeastern United States are 50% more likely to be located in “Environmental Justice” (EJ) communities -- counties where the poverty level is above the state medium, and at least 25% of the population is nonwhite.

“These data add to growing evidence that biomass facilities in the US South place an undue burden on areas struggling with economic and environmental justice issues.” said Davis. “We hope that this paper will encourage communities and local governments to think twice before allowing a polluting industry like wood pellets to take up residence in their towns.”

This finding identifies a worrying trend in wood pellet production facilities (also known as “biomass” facilities) in the South -- that they are being placed in low-income communities of color where often other polluting industries exist. This pattern was especially egregious in both North Carolina and South Carolina, where every large wood pellet production facility analyzed was located in an existing Environmental Justice community.

The paper also highlights the Dobbins Heights community, in Richmond Co., North Carolina, where the community organization Concerned Citizens of Richmond County organized to try and prevent construction of a wood pellet production facility owned by Enviva. Enviva’s Richmond County facility, which was recently permitted, will join a Perdue chicken plant, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, CSX, and a connecting point for the Piedmont and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

“We really see the impacts on the ground in communities like Dobbins Heights in Richmond County, where an Enviva wood pellet plant under construction will join all of these other polluting industries in one very concentrated area.” said Emily Zucchino, community network manager at Dogwood Alliance. “It’s just not fair to those residents who want clean air and a safe, healthy environment for their families.”


Map showing the location of existing wood pellet mills and Environmental Justice (EJ) designated communities in the Southern United States. All mills in North and South Carolina have been located in EJ communities, and the research found there is a greater than 50% likelihood that future wood pellet mills would be as well. Residents of the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County speak at a community forum in opposition to a proposed Enviva wood pellet mill. Dobbins Heights where the facility is set to be built is designated as an Environmental Justice community.

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