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Local group opposeds permit for ‘world’s largest wood pellet plant’ planned for Adel

On Aug. 5, 2022, on behalf of Concerned Citizens of Cook County (4C), the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a petition with the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings to appeal an air quality permit that “would allow the construction of the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturing facility adjacent to a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood,” according to a news release from the group.

“Wood pellet plants release air particles that create air quality problems and are linked to serious health issues, like asthma and heart disease,” the release states. “These harmful facilities are often built near predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, continuing a legacy of environmental injustice in areas already dealing with an unfair share of pollution.

“The Environmental Protection Division’s issuance of the permit authorizing the construction of Spectrum’s wood pellet facility in west Adel violates the Clean Air Act and threatens the health and welfare of local residents who have voiced their concerns to the agency in two different comment letters. In addition to Clean Air Act violations, EPD’s decision to permit a facility to build first then test later circumvents the non-discrimination goals outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency to allow meaningful participation in the process, safeguard public health and welfare, and prevent pollution.”

Scot Corbett, a company official with Spectrum, told the Adel News that his attorney has filed a motion of intervention on the air permit issue, and will file a motion for dismissal of the environmental groups’ action “on unfounded grounds.”

Spectrum has followed all the necessary legal steps to obtain the air quality permit and “complied with everything,” Corbett said. “We feel we’re being unjustly disadvantaged.”

The Spectrum wood pellet plant will operate at the former Weyerhaeuser plant in Adel once it has been retrofitted for wood pellet production, Corbett said. The plant site is a legally zoned industrial area. Since Weyerhaeuser closed several years ago, the site has been operated as a Sierra Pine facility, and then became the proposed site for a Blue Sky biomass plant. The former site of Del-Cook lumber company will become a wood yard for the Spectrum plant, Corbett said.

“This will be a $200 million investment in Cook County,” Corbett said, adding that equipment is coming in and Spectrum is already employing some people.

Corbett said he anticipates that Spectrum will directly employ 100 people and an assessment showed that the plant will have an indirect employment impact of about 400, including loggers and log truck drivers.

Corbett said the Spectrum plant will start production during the second quarter of 2023 and will be fully operational during the fourth quarter of 2023.

According to the environmental groups, Spectrum’s wood pellet plant is not the first of its kind proposed: In 2021, EPD issued a permit to the Renewable Biomass Group, which is slated to produce 450,000 metric tons per year of industrial wood pellets.

“Since Spectrum was first proposed, the Concerned Citizens of Cook County alerted Director Dunn that a second harmful wood pellet plant in Adel would be detrimental to the health of the residents by further decreasing air quality and increasing cases of asthma, heart disease, lung disease, and other illnesses,” says Dr. Treva Gear, a founding member of 4C. “Our community deserves better. Economic progress should not equate to our Black, Hispanic, and impoverished neighborhoods being treated as a sacrifice zone for repeated environmental injustices. Residents on the west side of Adel have lived alongside industries polluting our air and water for decades, and this has to stop. Clean air and water are a human right. We simply need to breathe.”

“The Environmental Protection Division has a responsibility to fully understand the toxicity and nuisance of wood pellet plants on Cook County residents before approving a permit,” says Jennifer Whitfield, Senior Attorney in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Georgia office. “The agency’s mandate to protect public welfare requires it to administer its permit programs in a nondiscriminatory manner—which is clearly not what was done here.”

“The West Adel community already faces multiple environmental concerns: Contaminated groundwater, foul odors associated with a local propane business, the existing pellet plant, and now this. On its own, the proposed Spectrum pellet plant would be a problem. Layered on to the existing harms in the neighborhood, its operation is beyond untenable. Not one of us would wish the same day to day environmental threats in our own neighborhoods, and the proper operation of civil rights and environmental law should not allow it for the citizens of West Adel,” says Chandra Taylor-Sawyer, leader of SELC’s Environmental Justice Initiative. “EPD has a golden opportunity to do right by those living near Spectrum’s proposed plant and revoke the permit.”

Since its filing on Aug. 5, 2022, the petition results in a stay until the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings details next steps in the case.

Timeline, according to the environmental groups:

– On January 28, 2021, EPD denied a request by environmental groups to comment on a draft permit authorizing Renewable Biomass Group to construct and operate a new wood pellet plant in Adel. [The Renewable Biomass plant has not been built yet.]

– In October 2021, Spectrum submitted a permit application to construct and operate a wood pellet manufacturing facility with a capacity of 600,000 tons of wood pellets per year in Phase 1 and 1,320,000 tons in Phase 2. “Operating at full capacity, Spectrum would become the largest wood pellet manufacturing facility in the world.”

– On Nov. 19, 2021, 4C and 14 other public interest organizations submitted comments opposing Spectrum’s permit application, raising concerns that “the application was incomplete and did not contain sufficient information to assess the potential impact of the plant.”

– In December 2021, Spectrum submitted a revised permit application.

– On March 28, 2022, EPD solicited public comments on Spectrum’s revised draft permit.

– On May 2, 2022, 4C and 13 other public interest organizations once again submitted comments, “raising concerns about insufficient air pollution controls and information to assess the potential impact of the plant on the local community.”

– On July 8, 2022, the permit was approved for Spectrum to commence two phases of construction and operation. “None of the 14 public interest groups that submitted comments were notified of the permit’s issuance and the deadline to petition for a hearing on the permit,” according to the groups.

The Concerned Citizens of Cook County (4C) is “a frontline community organization based in Adel, Georgia. 4C’s purpose is to be a positive force for change by promoting equity and advocating for social and environmental justice. 4C aims to provide support and information designed to uplift the people, protect the environment, and give access to people who feel excluded within their community.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center is “one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people.” Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 180, including 90 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C.

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