Northampton County, NC: More Enviva Expansion?

Northampton community members wear red to show solidarity with NC forests.

On August 20, The Rachel Carson Council (RCC) called yet again for environmentalists, activists and community members to provide testimony for the third proposed expansion of an Enviva plant in North Carolina in less than a year. The Northampton County Enviva plant is seeking to grow its operations to produce 780,000 tons of wood pellets per year. That equals approximately 18,000 acres of forestland destruction in North Carolina and Virginia. At a time when the climate crisis is getting worse, and with clear science showing the destructive nature of the wood pellet industry, such expansions are absolutely unacceptable.

Signs from the Northampton hearing call on NC DEQ and Governor Cooper to act on climate and put a moratorium on the wood pellet industry.

In order to achieve these expansions, it appears that the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been allowing Enviva to exploit loopholes in the system.

First, each of the past three permits for expansion have been paired with a benign plan to install new air quality technology at the plants. But these requests for additions come after a Clean Air Act lawsuit, led by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Clean Air Carolina, had to legally mandate Enviva to install air pollution controls already standard at other plants throughout the country. As environmentalists, community members and concerned citizens, we do not oppose the air quality technology that should have been installed in the first place. We do, however, oppose any growth of this destructive industry. By pairing these two proposals within one permit, Enviva is misleading the public, claiming that those of us against expansion are trying to get in the way of protecting public health.

RCC Associate Director Alexandra Wisner providing testimony at the Northampton County permit hearing.

Second, just weeks ago, the hearing for the expansion of the Sampson County Enviva plant took place. Before the public comment period was even closed, DEQ had approved the permit, as well as issued another permit proposal for the Northampton plant. Approving a permit before the period to comment is closed stifles voices and ignores critical public input that is supposed to be at the heart of open hearings. Further, by issuing another proposal before the prior comment period had closed makes it seem that, regardless of what citizens, environmentalists, health professionals and community members offer as evidence, Enviva will get its permit approved by NC DEQ. This is even the case when, for example, at the Northampton hearing, of those speaking, 24 people were opposed to the permit, while only 15 were for it, most of whom were Enviva employees.

This cannot be allowed to keep happening. Why is it that the voices of those directly affected by the plan are falling on deaf ears? Why is it that peer-reviewed science is being ignored? Why is it that Enviva seems to consistently receive special treatment from NC DEQ, a government agency set up to protect the people, not industry?

We need you now more than ever to call on Governor Cooper to demand an immediate moratorium on any expansion of the wood pellet industry. For North Carolina to achieve the goals set out in the governor’s Executive Order 80 on carbon neutrality and climate resiliency, we cannot continue to allow Enviva to operate in North Carolina. Call Governor Cooper today at (910) 814-2000 or write him at [email protected]. Tell him to declare a moratorium on the wood pellet industry in North Carolina.

Alexandra Wisner is the Associate Director of Policy and Programs for the Rachel Carson Council in Washington, DC. She is a Duke graduate and North Carolina native who also writes about the wood pellet industry and organizes against it in North Carolina. [email protected]