As most of you know at this point, our forests are being destroyed to make wood pellets that are shipped to Europe where they are burned for electricity. The Europeans currently count biomass electricity as both renewable and carbon neutral. Unfortunately, burning forests for fuel not only destroys our forests, the best defense against climate change, but it also releases large amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere.
Most of the stories about the negative impacts of the wood pellet industry focus on impacts to the climate and biodiversity.
But, an excellent new series by Danielle Purifoy of Scalawag Magazine, done in conjunction with Environmental Health News and Southerly, takes a deep dive on the human impacts of this industry and more specifically, how the industry fuels environmental injustice.
Part I highlights how the industry has invaded the Southern US and brought with it air pollution, noise, and the loss of biodiversity, mostly to Black and low income communities.
Purifoy speaks to residents of Northampton, North Carolina where Enviva operates a wood pellet mill. The residents talk about increased air pollution causing breathing problems, noise keeping them up late at night, and how all of the promised jobs have not brought prosperity, but only further suffering.
Belinda Joyner, a resident of Northampton speaks truth and wisdom when she explains,
“When I looked at the officer that was choking George Floyd, and he said I can’t breathe, this is the same thing that the industries are doing to our communities.”
Part II focuses on the wood pellet industry’s continued expansion from its start in the Southeast to the Black Belt of Alabama and Mississippi.
In those two states, local residents discovered the coming wood pellet mill long after it was already a done deal. The companies have spent years behind closed doors wooing local politicians and the state agencies in charge of permitting rubber stamp permits regardless of local community opposition.
Reverend Michael Malcom, the Executive Director of Alabama Interfaith Power and Light said,
“They go into these low wealth communities, promise opportunity, and a lot of residents bite on it. If we could get ahead of this, we could go in and tell them about the dangers of the wood pellet industry. But unfortunately, the way the system works in Alabama, ADEM keeps things under wraps until it’s time for the public hearing.”
Everyone involved believes that there is hope and the industry can be stopped, but until then, the list of injustices committed by this industry will continue to rise.
You can read Part I from Scalawag here, “Knock on Wood: How Europe’s wood pellet appetite fuels environmental racism in the South”