Concerned Citizens of Cook County (4C), represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, reached a settlement agreement with Spectrum Energy Georgia, LLC in the operation of a proposed wood pellet plant in Adel, according to a news release.
Effective Dec. 24, 2022, the agreement includes more protections for public health than the permit authorized by state regulators, and stronger enforceability provisions in the case that Spectrum fails to comply with the settlement, the release states. “In fact, if unable to fulfill its obligations to the Adel community by monitoring and controlling air pollution, Spectrum will not proceed to a second, more robust level of operations.”
In addition, the agreement outlines terms to ensure more transparency and input from the public and members of 4C — including a stipulation that Spectrum’s pollution data will be shared directly with the advocacy organization — and 4C’s participation in ongoing dialogue between Spectrum and impacted communities, the release adds.
“I’m proud that we, Concerned Citizens of Cook County, made our very own seat at the table to advocate for the West Adel community’s health and welfare. Though we’re pleased that Spectrum participated in these discussions, we are disappointed that the agency obligated to protect our community failed once again,” says Dr. Treva Gear, founder and chair of Concerned Citizens of Cook County. “We look forward to holding Spectrum and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division accountable.”
Under the settlement terms, Spectrum commits to convening public forums twice a year to receive comments on the ongoing operations of the plant and maintaining a public hotline for neighbors to call in with any concerns, the release states. “Spectrum will purchase air monitors which provide pollution data to 4C and the community, as well as filters to be distributed to the churches, daycare centers, and homes closest to where it will operate. Spectrum has also agreed to take several measures to limit the noise, traffic, and air pollution from its facility, including monitoring its air pollution control devices on a monthly — rather than annual — basis.
“In addition, 4C is listed as an enforcer of the agreement terms, with Spectrum agreeing to pay $25,000 to a public health and safety fund for each demonstrated violation of certain air pollution commitments.”
“This settlement agreement will better protect Cook County communities, who have already faced the disproportionate consequences of industry for decades,” says Jennifer Whitfield, Senior Attorney in SELC’s Georgia office. “SELC and 4C will continue our collective work to hold EPD accountable to protect the health and welfare of Adel residents. We value Spectrum’s willingness to listen to 4C’s concerns. From these conversations, Spectrum found a way to transform its aspirations for running a cleaner pellet mill into a commitment to the community.”
On Jan. 4, 2023, SELC and 4C filed a Title VI complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division. “Throughout the process of Adel residents requesting protections from EPD based on legacy discrimination, the state agency interpreted its own regulations as prohibiting EPD from taking any steps to assess or redress the disproportionate burdens of its permitting program on the health and welfare of people of color in Georgia,” according to the news release.
“The agreement between Spectrum Energy and the Concerned Citizens of Cook County marks one step forward in a longer fight for environmental justice,” says Chandra Taylor-Sawyer, Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC’s Environmental Justice Initiative. “The community has secured more protections despite Georgia regulators refusing to acknowledge obligations to consider overburdened populations. Now, 4C will continue to work with federal agencies to ensure that future environmental permitting decisions in this community and others will appropriately consider existing burdens before granting new permits to pollute.”
“We congratulate the concerned citizens in Adel who took an important step forward for public health and local democracy with this agreement,” said Adam Colette of Dogwood Alliance. “At the same time, there are no regulations or policies in the state that stop forest destruction or destructive climate impacts of the wood pellet industry and so this remains a travesty of justice for the state.”
“Forest destruction is bad for biodiversity, the climate and water quality,” according to a news release from Dogwood Alliance. “Industrial logging is on the rise in the region thanks in part to the wood pellet industry. As a result, forest disturbance from logging in the Southeast is four times more than South American rainforests.”
“The challenge for communities like Adel and other communities that have been reliant on an economy of extraction is political leadership that is unwilling to see the existential crisis of climate change and establish laws that address ecological sustainability,” continued Colette. “Nothing is more important than ensuring a safe, inhabitable world for the children of today and future generations.”
On Jan. 12, at 6 p.m., 4C will hold a town hall meeting at Bethel Baptist Church to share more information with the local public about the settlement agreement with the Spectrum wood pellet plant.
“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.” www.joincookcitizens.org
“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 200, including more than 100 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C.” southernenvironment.org