As the biomass industry continues to rage across the Southeastern US, it leaves in its wake the destruction of our beautiful Southern forests and the wildlife habitats and ecological benefits they provide. The wood pellet industry has undoubtedly been devastating to our environment and our forests. Yet there is another layer to the injustice.The biomass industry is one more instance of the corporate greed that concentrates wealth in the top 1% of our society, increasing #inequality while ravaging the resources of and giving little in return to the communities that bear the consequences. On Blog Action Day 2014, Dogwood Alliance highlights and applauds the community power and resistance that is growing in opposition to biomass and calls on policy makers and biomass corporate executives to stop destroying our forests and our communities.
We call on Enviva to halt destructive practices and invest in Solutions that work in partnership with communities and the environment.
In early September, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory announced plans for two new Enviva wood pellet facilities to be built in North Carolina. “By developing these projects,” McCrory stated that Enviva “plans to double the size of its operating footprint in North Carolina, and in doing so, will be creating good, sustainable jobs.”
While McCrory applauded the two new mills as a boon to the North Carolina economy and environment, community members living near the proposed sites tell a different story.
The two new proposed mills are in Sampson and Richmond Counties. Costing $35 million to complete, the mills will provide 160 jobs between the two of them. With unemployment rates of 6.6% in Sampson County and 8.7% in Richmond County, there is no doubt that jobs are needed in these communities. But when these temporary jobs destroy thousands of acres of valuable forests and disrupt the regions ability to improve water quality, provide food control, prevent erosion and absorb carbon emissions, it begs the question of what is it worth?
What is it worth to ensure that our forests, climate, and communities remain strong, sustainable, and valuable? We need to consider long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes based on false science and flawed policies.
Three weeks ago, I traveled through North Carolina to meet with those most impacted by the immediate threats of Enviva’s new pellet mills and export facility. In Clinton, located in Sampson County, I met with Dwight Miller, a member of the local NAACP community and leader in the movement against the Fibrowatt chicken litter incinerator. Dwight reminded me that this is not the first time industry has tried to exploit this community. Years ago, plans were put in place to develop an incinerator to burn chicken waste. The plant, he told me, would be built right on top of the community’s African-American population.
For years, community members have opposed this plant, and the struggle continues as residents work to ensure that everybody has the right to access to clean air and a high quality of life. Now, Enviva presents yet another instance of corporate greed coming before community needs.
With plans to build on the same lot as the Fibrowatt incinerator, Enviva’s wood pellet facility in Sampson County will present yet another barrier to community residents who are working to build a space that is safe, clean and vibrant. Dwight posed the question, “How did Enviva pick this community?” Why is it this community that deserves to be subject to the dust, noise and pollution of this new plant? Why is it this community whose peace is disturbed and local businesses disrupted with the constant back and forth of trucks heading to Interstate 40? How do 160 temporary jobs offset the destruction of the environment and a community’s quality of life?
That evening, I met with a group of residents who have been active in pushing back against the proposed Enviva plant. Deborah, a long-time resident of Calypso, NC, just miles away from where the proposed plant is to be built in Faison, has worked with others in the community to take their concerns to local commissioners, policymakers and the media. Their efforts have been met with little to no response from local policy makers, leaving the group to wonder, “Where are the people who are supposed to represent us? Why are we working so hard to represent ourselves?” Most of the people present had lived in the county for decades and have enjoyed the peace and calm that comes with living in a small town in Eastern North Carolina. For some, that is set to change drastically.
Community member Jane will never again go a day without being affected by the Enviva plant, which will be built practically in her back yard.
She worries about the constant clanking and grinding of the conveyor belts that run outside of the plants. The group also expressed concerns about the 120-130 truckloads per day that will lead to traffic, noise, and increased risk for accidents.
Not one of the group offered any hope of economic improvement. Rather, the group feared for what will happen in 5-10 years when the market inevitably changes and demand for wood pellets disappears. “Can the plant be utilized for something else?” one woman asked. Another wondered of Enviva, “Will you clean up when you leave?” The group had little faith in Enviva’s willingness to care for the community. They cautioned that while the company says they will replant the trees they cut down, the landowners are the ones who are actually tasked with the cost of doing so. No one will follow through to make sure they actually do it. And while Enviva might even offer economic incentives to the community, for many, this is just not enough. William, an environmentalist in the group, demanded a greater responsibility to the public.
“What good is it to get money for school children,” he asked, “when you are killing the children?”
The long-term impacts of Enviva’s destructive practices are not to be taken lightly; economic incentives and 160 short-term jobs are no substitutes for justice.
The negative impacts of Enviva’s practices are not just felt at the sites of harvest. Sixty miles away, in Wilmington, NC, community members worry about the export facility that is to be built at the Wilmington port. The Sunset Park Neighborhood Association has come together to oppose the construction of the two large domes that will store the pellets.
The community fears for their public safety if the pellets, known to be highly combustible, ignite.
Additionally, they call on Enviva and their local policy makers to put in place measures that require Enviva to repair road destruction caused by their truck traffic, implement sound buffers, create a constant monitoring system that is made available to the public on a quarterly basis and that all these things be enforced by city authorities. Roberta, an active member of the association, reminded the group that their tax money is paying for these harmful additions. With the potential of $1.7 million in awards offered to Enviva by the state of North Carolina, it is NC residents who are paying for these plants, and it is NC residents who should have the loudest voice in how development practices do and do not serve them. Enviva does not and will not get the right to create the future of these communities. We stand in solidarity with the residents of Wilmington as they push for investment policies that benefit them and with the communities in Sampson and Richmond County who demand living spaces that are environmentally and economically sustainable.
Enviva can continue to tout their false claims of economic and environmental improvement. But as community resistance continues to swell, we know theirs will not be the loudest voice. Today, #BlogAction14, we call on Enviva and NC policy makers to stand against #inequality. On-the-ground resistance won’t stop until we have achieved policies and practices that support equality, justice and the promise of a better future.