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NC Wood-Pellet Plant Agrees to Air-Pollution Controls

Wood pellets are a type of biofuel made from trees. In some European countries, pellets are used in large-scale power plants once fueled by coal. (Adobe Stock)
Wood pellets are a type of biofuel made from trees. In some European countries, pellets are used in large-scale power plants once fueled by coal. (Adobe Stock)
June 10, 2019

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Environmental groups in North Carolina have negotiated a settlement with Enviva, the world's largest manufacturer of wood pellet fuel for power plants. The company has agreed to install pollution-reducing equipment at a plant under construction in the town of Hamlet, east of Charlotte.

According to Daniel Parkhurst, policy manager with the group Clean Air Carolina, the controls will reduce harmful emissions by 95% during the dirtiest phase of production. He said Hamlet residents are already exposed to high levels of air pollution.

"All four Enviva facilities in North Carolina are in the bottom 25 counties for health outcomes,” Parkhurst said. “So, you already have communities in the area who are particularly vulnerable to emissions and to pollution, and this just adds on to the things that they breathe, day in and day out."

In a separate settlement with the state Department of Environmental Quality, Enviva agreed to install similar air-pollution control technology at a facility in Sampson County.

Wood pellets are produced mostly in the southeastern U.S. where trees are harvested and turned into pellets that are sold and shipped to European Union countries to fuel power plants.

A few years ago, Enviva sought to modify its air-pollution permit for the Hamlet plant, which is slated to open later this year. Attorney Heather Hillaker with the Southern Environmental Law Center said the proposed permit modifications would have circumvented federal and state regulations under the Clean Air Act.

"When we saw that those modifications were going to result in exceedences of the emissions limits required under the Clean Air Act, we spoke with people in the community that were concerned about the impact of pollution from this facility on their health and their well-being,” Hillaker said.

Wood-pellet production pollutes the air by creating volatile organic compounds - or VOCs - which have been linked to asthma, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and depression. Hillaker said the settlement, which will ensure most of the VOCs produced by the Enviva Hamlet facility don't end up in the air, is a win for the health of Richmond County residents.

Disclosure: Clean Air Carolina contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC