Dozens of people from “frontline climate communities” across the South recently gathered at the White House to urge President Biden to stop the expansion of the biomass industry, according to a news release from Dogwood Alliance, an environmental justice group.
Local participants were Dr. Treva Gear, Addie Mitchell, and Alishia Pinkney, representing Concerned Citizens of Cook County.
“International biomass companies are clearcutting forests and building highly polluting wood pellet mills in small, lower-income communities of color across the South,” according to Dogwood Alliance. “The wood pellets are then shipped to Europe and Asia to be burned for electricity.
“The process produces more carbon emissions than coal. And by clear-cutting forests, the industry removes communities’ natural lines of defense against accelerating climate impacts such as extreme heat, hurricanes, and flooding. Additionally, wood-pellet mills – predominantly located in poor, Black communities – release highly toxic emissions, making the air quality so bad it isn’t comfortable or safe for residents to go outside.”
Speakers at the press event said that President Biden has a good – even historic – record on environmental justice. But just this month, the administration announced $50 million in grant funding to expand the forest products industry – including wood energy markets.
“This is in direct conflict with your historic commitment to environmental justice,” said Danna Smith, executive director of the forest protection organization, the Dogwood Alliance. “Though burning wood as fuel for electricity is promoted as a climate-friendly renewable alternative to coal, nothing could be further from the truth. Hundreds of scientists have warned that burning wood to generate electricity releases more carbon than coal and will make climate change worse. Wood pellet mills also release toxic air pollutants that are known to cause serious respiratory and other life-threatening impacts. The clear-cutting of forests is stripping away natural flood protection for communities at a time when extreme flooding is getting worse. And now the wood pellet industry is gearing up for another phase of expansion – they’re planning to build an additional 12 mills across the South.”
Recent announcements have been made about plans for two wood pellet mills in Adel, one off of Highway 41 south of Adel and one at the former Weyerhaeuser/SierraPine plant.
At the press conference, representatives of frontline communities detailed how wood pellet mills affect their health, their homes, and their daily lives. North Carolina speakers remarked about issues with noise, dust, and traffic pollution. They spoke about such health problems as asthma, headaches, nosebleeds, and respiratory issues. They urged President Biden to put stricter regulations on the biomass industry and install air monitors in communities so citizens can monitor air quality themselves.
“Clean air is a human right. It’s a civil right. We are suffering in silence while being poisoned in plain sight,” said Dr. Treva Gear with Concerned Citizens of Cook County. “Biomass is not carbon neutral, and it’s not clean or green. I’m asking President Biden to stop the designation of woody biomass as carbon neutral, because it’s not.”
After the press conference, the participants sent a virtual petition to Enviva, the largest wood-pellet producer in the world. The petition calls on the company to stop logging Southern forests and “stop polluting Southern communities,” according to Dogwood Alliance.
A videotaped recording of the Oct. 19 press event is available on Facebook and YouTube.