Clear Cut

A Guide to Enviva, Environmental Justice and Civic Action against the Wood Pellet Industry

For a free copy of the full Clear Cut report visit our Publications page.

Source: Dogwood Alliance, 2015

Enviva & the Wood Pellets Industry

The Rachel Carson Council’s latest report, Clear Cut, highlights the economic and political injustices surrounding the wood pellet industry, focusing on Enviva, the largest producer globally, and its operations within North Carolina. Wood pellet material sourcing leads to massive deforestation of critical habitats, and Enviva alone is responsible for 50 acres a day of clear-cut land.

North Carolina, especially its poor rural communities, has become an attractive destination for many industrial operations because of its geographical location and its political alignments that currently favor economic growth over policies to protect people and the environment. These factors, as well as pre-existing forestry industries, created the perfect milieu in which Enviva’s operations have developed. Once established in the state, Enviva has continued to drive its growth and expansion with close political relationships and by dominating the public narrative surrounding wood pellets.

Debunking the “Bridge Fuel” Myth

Wood pellets are carbon-neutral if and only if pellets exclusively consist of forest by-products and residues. The problem is that international demand for wood pellets is so high that the industry cannot rely on residues alone. As of now, it is difficult to ascertain the precise amount of whole forest products which are used in wood pellet operations, but environmental groups have investigated the path of clear-cut trees to wood pellet production facilities.

There is a well-respected and growing body of research demonstrating that wood pellets are neither carbon-neutral nor sustainable. Many of these studies, like one done by the NRDC in 2015, have found that burning wood pellets for fuel releases as much as, or even more, carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal.

Pellet production facilities release dangerous air pollutants, putting surrounding communities at higher risk for health complications. Finally, burning wood pellets releases 65% more CO2 than coal per megawatt hour. In order to keep global climate change below 1.5 degrees Celsius, wood pellets must not be used as an energy alternative.

 

Impacts of the Wood Pellet Industry & Ongoing Actions
Water

Forests promote groundwater renewal and maintain the proper movement of the water cycle. They support strong riverbanks to capture sediment and control water temperature fluctuations. North Carolina residents have directly benefited from the natural filtration system that forests provide. As North Carolina’s population continues to grow, forest support for local freshwater will become increasingly important.

Stand for forests and for clean water by joining one of the organizations with the Stand4Forests campaign.


Energy

In 2009, the European Union created their 2020 Renewable Energy Directive. This policy sets a collective target for 20% of total energy generation from renewable sources by 2020; it includes all forms of biomass as carbon-neutral and sustainable sources. As a result, wood pellets now account for nearly half of the E.U.’s “renewable” energy production.

In reality, wood pellets are far from a sustainable, carbon neutral fossil fuel substitute.

Fight the spread of the wood pellet industry and join the Dogwood Alliance.


Air

All 21 U.S. wood pellet mills combined emit 16 thousand tons of detrimental air pollutants every year.

Enviva’s Sampson plant wood dryer emits 50 times more total hazardous air pollution and 70 to 300 times more formaldehyde and acetaldehyde than similar wood pellet plants that do use controls.


Climate Justice

The NC Enviva facilities are in largely rural areas that suffer some of the highest concentrations of environmental degradation from industrial operations in the state. These operations are disproportionately clustered around poor communities of color.

A recent study from Dogwood Alliance found that wood pellet facilities are 50% more likely to be cited in environmental justice communities nationally. In North Carolina, every single facility is in an environmental justice community.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Air Carolina, Southern Environmental Law Center, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Rachel Carson Council are just a few other of many national and regional organizations that support local community mobilization for environmental health against the extractive wood pellet industry.


Defend Academic Integrity

To successfully bring about social, environmental, economic, and political change, it is essential to equip coalitions in higher education with research and advocacy skills, and for them to act without fear of repercussions.

Join the Rachel Carson Council’s campaign to expose intimidation and protect researchers, advocates, and community members.


Climate Crisis

Warming Planet:  Given that climate change impacts are already disrupting the planet, it is necessary to contain global temperature rise to 1.5°C or less within the century before we face a human-induced, irreversible environmental catastrophe.

However, it takes a half-century for new trees to remove carbon dioxide from the wood pellet process. The time lag for trees to regrow and pay off their carbon debt undermines the very efforts the renewable portfolio standard, Paris Agreement, and E.U. climate targets were initially designed for: immediate climate change mitigation.

The best strategy to lower atmospheric CO2 levels is to preserve and expand forests, rather than destroy them and use trees as fuel.

Extreme Weather: Strong forests protect North Carolinians from extreme weather events such as costly hurricanes.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused $4.8 billion in damage, affected 98,000 homes and nearly 20,000 businesses across North Carolina. While the federal government initially committed $1.2 billion toward the recovery, this was still insufficient to properly address housing and infrastructure needs. Cutting down trees for wood pellets further weakens North Carolina’s natural defense against such severe weather events.


Definitions

Environmental Justice: The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network defines EJ as “The right to a safe, healthy, productive, and sustainable environment for all, where ‘environment’ is considered in its totality to include the ecological (biological), physical (natural and built), social, political, aesthetic, and economic environments. Environmental justice refers to the conditions in which such a right can be freely exercised, whereby individual and group identities, needs, and dignities are preserved, fulfilled, and respected in a way that provides for self- actualization and personal and community empowerment. This term acknowledges environmental “injustice” as the past and present state of affairs and expresses the socio-political objectives needed to address them.

Climate Justice: Recognizes that those who are hit first and hardest by climate impacts have contributed least to the problem. A climate justice framework suggests that the solution to climate change lies in addressing social, economic, and political systems that perpetuate discrimination and heat up an already fevered planet.

January 7, 2019