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Groups to Gov: Permit for Wood Pellet Plant Doesn't Pass Smell Test

Citizens gather for a press conference to deliver 10,000 signatures protesting a permit granted to Enviva. (Clean Air Carolina)
July 20, 2017

HAMLET, N.C. -- More than 10,000 signatures protesting the permitting of a wood pellet plant now are in the hands of Gov. Roy Cooper.

The petition representing 50 organizations - including Clean Air Carolina - asks the governor to revoke an air permit to Enviva, the world's largest wood pellet manufacturer. The company wants to open a facility in Richmond County, and residents such as Nakisa Glover want the state to review what she and others have called a flawed permitting process that took place under the McCrory administration.

"State and federal enforcers, they must first and primarily be representative of the people,” Glover said. "The trajectory of what's happening is that it's too much about protecting industry. "

Under the previous administration, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality permit without any notice to the community or opportunity for comment. Richmond County - a largely minority community - already has a significant amount of pollution from other industries.

Enviva did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is representing the group Concerned Citizens of Richmond County in a lawsuit. The Dogwood Alliance also is providing assistance, and according to Emily Zucchino, campaign organizer with the organization, the permit request didn't have the correct address listed on it when it was approved.

"A big concern at the local level is really the lack of a process for public participation that was never given to this community,” Zucchino said. "They were never given a public hearing to voice their opposition to Enviva's air quality permit."

Even if you don't live in Richmond County or another impacted by industry pollution, Glover said, it's important to note that pollution doesn't stay within county lines.

"Air travels. Air is not something that stands still,” she said. "These issues are happening in these small communities on the side of the road, that are covered by forests, or covered by woods, and it's not until you go deeper into the community that you are seeing what a community is being faced with. "

Richmond County currently doesn't have any air quality monitors. The wood pellet industry has been growing as the demand for biomass electricity increases in Europe.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC