N.C. citizens group, SELC challenge permit for polluter issued without public notice

Members of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County (clockwise from front) Kim McCall, the Rev. Leo Woodberry, the Rev. Cary Rodgers, and Loretta Slater outside of the county administration building in March.  (© Lisa Sorg/N.C. Policy Watch)

On behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, SELC challenged a new state air permit for a proposed Enviva wood pellet plant because it was issued without any notice or opportunity for the local community to comment. The Hamlet, North Carolina plant would be located in close proximity to a predominantly African-American community already dealing with other major sources of air pollution.

“It’s deeply troubling that a permit would be issued for a new major pollution source without the community impacted having an opportunity to voice their concerns and provide input,” said SELC attorney Myra Blake. “The law requires that people have the right to public notice and comment and a chance to speak at a public hearing before permits are issued for new sources of major pollution in their communities.”

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality first published a draft air permit for this facility in September 2015. The public notice for the draft permit vaguely identified the location of the facility as “Highway 177, Hamlet NC,” with no indication of the specific address where the facility would be located. The draft permit files identified an incorrect and invalid address for the facility, with a street address in Hamlet and a zip code from another county. DEQ also failed to provide concerned citizens a public hearing on this proposed major new industrial source of air pollution in their community.

As a result, many members of the community did not learn of the air quality permit until after it was finalized in March 2016. Once the community became aware of the permit and the air pollution it allows, representatives of the community met with DEQ officials, notified DEQ of its error, and urged it to issue a new draft permit that provided proper notice to the affected community and a public hearing so that people living near the proposed plant could voice their concerns.

Instead, DEQ acknowledged its error by issuing a new final air permit through what it called an ‘administrative amendment’ that listed a new, different address for the facility, without even notifying the community of its action.

“We want a voice in the decision to permit this major source of air pollution in our community,” said Kim McCall with Concerned Citizens of Richmond County. “We all deserve healthy air in our communities and the opportunity to be properly notified and have input into decisions to permit major sources of pollution that affect us.”

SELC filed a petition for a contested case in the Office of Administrative Hearings to challenge DEQ’s issuance of a new permit with a new address, while failing to correct the deficient public notice and improper denial of a public hearing that accompanied the original draft permit.

The existing permit does not mandate standard pollution controls required by law that are widely used across the southeast to protect air quality. As a result, DEQ unnecessarily allowed the facility to emit hundreds of tons of harmful and hazardous air pollutants each year, further burdening people’s health. By issuing a new permit with appropriate pollution controls, the state could eliminate this avoidable pollution, protect the health of the community, and safeguard the air that people breathe. 

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