For many of us, the Coronavirus global pandemic has altered almost every aspect of our lives. Our priorities shifted overnight, and our attention turned to pressing matters of our health, our finances, and our communities and families. But for many in the US South, this isn’t the “new normal”. It is an issue that is exacerbated by the fact that communities living on the frontlines of industrial logging and other polluting industries have been experiencing a health crisis for decades.
This is especially true in Robeson County, North Carolina, where the county is ranked worst in the state for health outcomes. Active Energy Group wants to build a bio-coal wood pellet production facility in Lumberton, NC (Robeson County), where two-thirds of the community are people of color. According to NC DEQ’s own Community Mapping Tool, there are at least a dozen pollution sources already in Robeson County.
The last thing we need during a health crisis is more pollution that triggers respiratory illness, more logging and more carbon emissions, and more plundering of community resources at the expense of NC residents.
Last month, many of you sent in comments requesting an extension to the public comment period, and the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) listened to your voices. NC DEQ has extended the public comment period until April 27th. Thank you for speaking out for North Carolina communities and forests! The fight isn’t over yet, though. NC DEQ has made no plans to reschedule the canceled public meeting or to further extend the public comment period as requested by local residents.
Robeson County residents deserve to be informed on the impacts this facility will have on air quality, carbon emissions, and local pollution. Local leaders have set a strong example by advocating for the rights of their constituents. The Robeson County Board of Commissioners has requested that NC DEQ reschedule the public meeting to allow for meaningful public input.
Take Action: Support the Robeson County Community. Send a public comment to NC DEQ opposing this dirty new facility, and asking them to ensure the highest level of public engagement.
The South is the poorest region in the nation, and is also the world’s largest wood-producing region. In the past decade, the South has also become the world’s leading producer of wood pellets, which are sent overseas to be burned for energy production. The production of biomass wood pellets has a proven track record of forest and climate destruction and polluting local communities with dangerous air toxins.
NC DEQ should not greenlight a new, polluting industry within one of the very communities that is most vulnerable to this pandemic.
Wood pellet manufacturing releases large amounts of air pollutants – primarily particulate matter, such as PM 2.5, and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) that have been shown to have serious impacts on human health. According to the EPA, exposure to particulates like PM 2.5 can affect both your lungs and your heart. Numerous scientific studies have linked particulate pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including heart attacks, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing.
For communities living with polluting industries, exposure to particulate matter means constantly living with “underlying conditions” and at greater risk for health issues. Yet as this community grapples with responding to the pandemic, the wood pellet industry wants to push through a new facility without even allowing the public an opportunity to ask questions and submit oral public comments.
As the crisis worsens across the US, we hear our leaders and health professionals warn us of the extra danger posed to those with underlying health conditions. The reality for many will be that their increased risk isn’t simply a factor of their age, or ability to self-isolate, but rather, an outcome of their zip-code. People in communities that have been impacted by pollution for decades, such as Robeson County residents, face an elevated risk of underlying conditions that increase vulnerability to the coronavirus and other illnesses.
The global pandemic is reinforcing the need for a Just Transition: one that prioritizes community needs and well-being, ecological resilience, and systems that work for all and not just for a few. Allowing business as usual will only drive us deeper down a path of ongoing health and climate crises.
TAKE ACTION: We can’t allow Active Energy to take advantage of our focus on public health concerns to push this permit through without thorough community input.