EPES, AL – This week news broke that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) approved Enviva’s application to build a massive wood pellet facility in Sumter County, just weeks after a public comment period ended in which hundreds of people submitted comments opposing the new mill. ADEM’s quick approval of the Maryland-based company’s 1.2 million ton wood pellet facility delivers a dangerous blow to the local community of Epes, the region’s forests, and our global climate.
As the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference continues in Madrid, the global calls for real climate action have become increasingly urgent. Millions of people walked out of schools and workplaces in recent youth-led climate strikes, over 11,000 scientists have declared we are in a climate emergency, and just this week the head of the U.N. warned that we are falling dangerously far behind on necessary global climate action.
“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand?” asked U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, referring to inaction on climate. The statement could not be more apt than for governments, industries, and investors that still promote the burning of biomass for electricity — which flies in the face of a decade of scientific evidence that says burning biomass is worse for the climate than burning coal.
With a production capacity of 1.2 million tons of wood pellets per year, the Epes facility will require up to 30,000 acres of forests to be cut down annually. Combined with its new Lucedale facility, currently under construction, Enviva’s expansion in the Gulf South will place intense pressure on Mississippi and Alabama’s forests. In a region where the land has been degraded by the forest products industry for decades, intact forests and wetlands are now more important than ever to protect communities from the increasing frequency and severity of flash floods, landslides, hurricanes and heavy rain.
In a community that is more than 90% African-American, Enviva’s wood pellet facility will bring harmful air pollution, dust, constant noise, and dangerous truck traffic. Despite a rosy corporate image portrayed by the company of coming to uplift communities in the Black Belt, Enviva represents the worst of a story that has played out time and again — dirty industry that parachutes in to extract resources and wealth, degrading the community’s health and land, for the benefit of a few, and the peril of many.