Active Energy Sued for Illegal Pollution of North Carolina’s Lumber River from Toxic Site

Planned Wood Pellet Facility Raises More Pollution Concerns

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—On behalf of Winyah Rivers Alliance, the Southern Environmental Law Center today sued to stop Active Energy Renewable Power and Lumberton Energy Holdings— subsidiaries of the U.K. company, Active Energy Group—from illegally polluting the Lumber River in violation of the Clean Water Act. The complaint filed by the conservation groups in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina outlines concerns regarding unpermitted discharges into the river and its tributary, Jacob’s Branch, from Active Energy’s property contaminated with toxic solvents in Lumberton, N.C.

“Active Energy Renewable power can’t pollute the Lumber River without a state permit to limit pollutants,” said Heather Hillaker, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Given the harmful toxins present on Active Energy’s property, pollution limits and frequent monitoring are crucial to protect the health of the Lumber River, people, and wildlife.”

In the absence of this required permit, the company can store wastewater on site, sell it, or store it off-site, but it cannot pollute the Lumber River without a lawful permit to monitor for and limit toxic pollutants that are present on its contaminated Brownfield property and could be discharged into the river. By not applying for a permit from the state, Active Energy has evaded disclosing information to interested communities about its treatment of contaminated wastewater at the site, current pollution limits, and more rigorous monitoring for known toxins present on its site. It also denies communities nearby and that rely on the river the opportunity to participate in the permitting process and provide comment to the state as part of that process. Residents of nearby communities that are predominantly Native American and Black already are exposed to multiple sources of industrial pollution.

“For almost two years, Active Energy has been violating laws that help keep the waters of our designated wild and scenic Lumber River safe and clean,” said Winyah Rivers Alliance’s Lumber Riverkeeper, Jefferson Currie II. “By refusing to even submit a wastewater permit application, this company is showing the community and our members how little it cares about the health and safety of the anglers, swimmers, boaters – everyone who lives in Lumberton and Robeson County.”

Despite plans to start manufacturing wood pellets at the contaminated site in early 2021, Active Energy does not have the required Clean Water Act permit for its ongoing industrial wastewater discharges and is operating in violation of the law. The company plans to construct a wood pellet mill at the site to turn virgin wood into a coal-like substance called “black pellets” or CoalSwitch for export to wood pellet markets in Europe and Asia. Although Active Energy is currently discharging wastewater from the site and will only increase its wastewater discharges with future mill operations, the company holds no permit authorizing either its present or future wastewater discharges.

While the company has repeatedly told investors that it plans to rapidly scale up production to approximately 440,000 tons of black pellets per year once the Lumberton pellet mill is operational, its air permit currently only allows emissions from a 43,800 ton per year operation. Active Energy has not disclosed to either regulators or nearby communities what pollution will be emitted into the air or water from its expanded facility.

Discharge monitoring reports filed by the company with EPA and the North Carolina Division of Water Resources show unpermitted water discharges of pollutants from Active Energy’s current operations, including suspended solids, nitrogen, zinc, copper, and chromium. Some of these pollutants can harm fish and other aquatic life in the river.  The area of the Lumber River immediately downstream of Active Energy’s unpermitted discharges is a state and federally designated scenic river due to its unique natural, recreational, fish and wildlife, and cultural values. 

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About the Southern Environmental Law Center

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. https://SouthernEnvironment.org

About Winyah Rivers Alliance

Winyah Rivers Alliance is a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed in North and South Carolina. For over 20 years, our work has been focused on protecting our local river resources and our communities’ rights to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. Both the Lumber RIVERKEEPER® and the Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER® are programs of Winyah Rivers Alliance.

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