State fails to properly curb carbon impact of N.C. wood pellet facilities

Enviva recently reported it uses about 80 percent hardwoods from Carolina and Virginia forests in its manufacture of wood pellets to be sent to Europe and burned for power generation. Pictured above is Enviva's Northampton operation, near Gaston, N.C. (© SELC)

A proposed facility that would use wood biomass to manufacture wood pellets for export to Europe violates air quality regulations by failing to minimize harmful carbon pollution. The proposed Enviva mill would be located in Richmond County near Hamlet, N.C., along the North Carolina-South Carolina state line and is expected to source wood for manufacturing pellets from forests in both states.

Currently the air quality permit for the facility, proposed by Enviva, is under review with the the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Today SELC submitted an objection to the permit on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Dogwood Alliance, Partnership for Public Integrity, and Clean Air Carolinas. The primary objection is the permit’s failure to account for the increased carbon dioxide emissions known to come from burning wood biomass.

“The emerging science is clear that burning wood biomass from whole trees and forests for energy increases carbon pollution,” said Derb Carter, senior attorney. “We need investment in true renewable, clean energy sources like wind and solar to build a stable economic base while cutting pollution.”

Based on findings from a recent analysis, using wood pellets made from hardwood trees cut down in eastern North Carolina and Virginia forests, as currently practiced by Enviva, will produce 2 1/2 times more carbon pollution than continuing to burn coal for 40 years, and more than three times coal’s carbon over 100 years. Ironically, the increasing demand for the wood pellets that Enviva makes from U.S. forests stems from U.K. policies intended to lower the carbon pollution responsible for climate change.

Despite claims to the contrary when existing pellet mills began operation, Enviva now concedes that it uses “roundwood” or tree trunks to manufacture wood pellets at its plants. Inspection of its log yards at its pellet mills by U.S. and U.K. media revealed this in 2013. Enviva recently disclosed that each of its existing plants in North Carolina and Virginia rely on approximately 80 or more hardwood input. In the year since April 2014 Enviva supplied more than one million metric tonis of pellets to Drax.

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