Not Renewable: Robeson County opposed to new wood pellet plant

This needs to be stopped in its tracks:

A proposed wood pellet plant faces vehement opposition from many Robeson County residents, including elected officials, and environmental advocates, who say the facility would not only pollute the air, but also would be financially risky and environmentally unjust.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality held a virtual public hearing Monday night to receive formal comments on a draft air permit for the plant, owned and operated by Active Energy Renewable Power, in Lumberton. More than 125 people attended, and of the roughly 50 who spoke, just four asked DEQ to approve the air permit; three of them were affiliated with the company.

NC has already lost over a hundred thousand acres of forests due to this industry, and we are now the biggest exporter of wood pellets in the world. Aside from the permitting issues of this newest plant, the cumulative effect on our state needs to be analyzed. Not just by advocates, but by DEQ itself. And let's not forget the environmental justice aspects:

Ninety percent of people living in the same census block of the plant are from communities of color; two-thirds are low-income. Within two miles of the plant are dozens of pollution sources, including multiple poultry farms, landfills and hazardous waste sites.

DEQ must consider these cumulative impacts, said Sherri White-Williamson Environmental Justice Coordinator with the North Carolina Conservation Network. “You must safeguard the health of the community and bring no further environmental harm to the citizens of Robeson County.”

Communities of color already suffer from higher rates of respiratory illnesses and are disproportionately sickened by COVID-19 than white people. According to the Robeson County Health Department, as of June 22, there have been 1,185 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 37 deaths. Polluting industries are also more likely to locate near neighborhoods that lack the political, social and economic power to fight them.

“I’m totally against it coming because of the air pollutants,” Carol Richardson, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Robeson County and the NAACP, said. “To add this wood pellet plant would increase the threat to our health and well-being. Can you guarantee there will be no harm to us now or in future because of this plant? No, no, no, to the wood pellet plant.”

We need a moratorium, and we need it now. Not just due to the pollution, but time to assess the deforestation associated with wood pellet production; loss of animal habitat, erosion, and a whole laundry list of other negative effects.