Action at White House Against Biomass

The Washington, D.C. Day of Action Against Big Biomass in front of White House.

At the White House on October 19, the Rachel Carson Council (RCC) rallied with the Dogwood Alliance and thirty members of frontline environmental justice communities from across the Southeast U.S. to call on the Biden Administration to end its support for the production of polluting and climate damaging industrial wood pellets, or woody biomass. During two days in Washington, as part of the International Day of Action Against Big Biomass that held events on six continents, the RCC helped host an advocacy day on Capitol Hill, the rally and press event in front of the White House, and a meeting with the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Throughout, those most directly affected and harmed by the wood pellet industry in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama and were able to share their personal stories with Federal decision-makers.

Large-scale electricity from biomass using wood pellets, a compressed forest product, has created an environmental justice crisis in the southeastern United States. Wood pellet plants create inordinate noise, air, and water pollution in their communities, leaving neighbors with serious health concerns. All too often, these plants are located in low-income, Black, and Indigenous communities, overburdening people with exposure to criteria air pollutants, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, compromised water quality, noise pollution, and overwhelming smells. The Rachel Carson Council has published three reports on the issue, Clear Cut, Bad Business, and Greenwashing, and has executed local education campaigns to elevate the issue.

Addie Mitchell (Concerned Citizens of Cook County) meeting Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

Wednesday’s advocacy day kicked off at the RCC headquarters with bagels, coffee, and camaraderie. Leaders in the anti-biomass movement from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi got to know each other and prepared for the meetings ahead. Then, we headed across town to Capitol Hill and met with 25 offices in the House and Senate to discuss the environmental justice and climate implications of the dangerous wood pellet biomass industry. We asked Congressional leaders to make sure that no Federal funding intended for renewable energy goes to wood pellet biomass.

Chief Pete Parr of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe.

Thursday the 19th was the official International Day of Action, and the morning kicked off with a press event in front of the White House where community leaders decried the toxic pollution caused by biomass, the deforestation, and the modern-day civil rights movement against the industry. Representative Ro Khanna [D-Ca] joined in solidarity with impacted communities to condemn wood pellet biomass and urge President Biden to instead invest in a renewable energy future. Reverend Leo Woodberry, a long-time leader in environmental justice issues nationally and citizen of Florence, South Carolina, spoke of the clear cutting in the south, how the land is left scarred, flooding is exacerbated, and corporations are enriched off stolen land in communities of color. Chief Pete Parr of the Pee Dee Tribe also talked about how the industry has affected the tribal lands of the Pee Dee in South Carolina. Dr. Treva Gear, from the Concerned Citizens of Cook County in Georgia, called out the fallacy of the “renewable” biomass industry and denounced the two facilities that had been proposed in her hometown of Adel, Georgia, fearing that they would sound the death toll for her community. You can hear those speakers and more here.

Dr. Treva Gear speaking at press event at White House.

Following the press event, we met with staff from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This meeting was more than an education campaign, as the Office of Environmental Justice and EPA Regional Offices have been involved in numerous discussions about the environmental and health consequences of wood pellet biomass before. Community leaders again shared their personal experiences living on the frontline of these facilities, with emotions swelling throughout the two hour meeting. People shared their grief over losing loved ones to diseases associated with wood pellet facilities, fear about future loss, and anger about how long it has taken for state and federal governments to do something to stop them. There was a common refrain: we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Our group left the meeting at EPA hopeful after several strong commitments from the Office of Environmental Justice. We gathered again at RCC’s office, enjoyed dinner and drinks, and let loose after a long two days of advocacy. The Bluetooth speaker turned dinner into a party, with everyone dancing and laughing together in joyful celebration. At the end of an exhausting, emotional two days, we had hope for a better future.

Maya Cohn — Director of Policy and Programs

Maya Cohn is the Director of Policy and Programs for the Rachel Carson Council. Before joining RCC, Maya spent five years working on Capitol Hill, most recently as Senator Patrick Leahy’s Legislative Assistant for energy, agriculture, and environmental issues. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from Skidmore College and is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree at Georgetown University. Maya is passionate about access to clean air, land, and water.