News | January 13, 2023

Settlement sets new standards for tracking wood pellet pollution in Georgia

Members of Concerned Citizens of Cook County met at the city hall in Adel, Georgia to voice their opposition to a proposed wood pellet processing plant with lax oversight from state regulators. Since then, plant operators have agreed to tighter emissions monitoring. 

A months-long campaign for better protections against a facility producing wood pellets in rural Georgia has ended in a successful settlement.  

SELC represented Concerned Citizens of Cook County (4C) in negotiations with Spectrum Energy Georgia, LLC in the operation of a proposed wood pellet plant in Adel. 

Effective December 24, 2022, the settlement agreement includes more protections for public health than the permit authorized by state regulators, and stronger enforceability provisions if Spectrum fails to comply with the settlement. In fact, if unable to fulfill its obligations to the Adel community by monitoring and controlling air pollution, Spectrum will not proceed to a second, more robust level of operations. 

In addition, it outlines terms to ensure more transparency and input from the public and members of 4C — including a stipulation that Spectrum’s pollution data be shared directly with the organization — and 4C’s participation in ongoing dialogue between Spectrum and impacted communities. 

“I’m proud that we, Concerned Citizens of Cook County, made our very own seat at the table to advocate for the West Adel community’s health and welfare. Though we’re pleased that Spectrum participated in these discussions, we are disappointed that the agency obligated to protect our community failed once again,” says Dr. Treva Gear, founder and chair of Concerned Citizens of Cook County. “We look forward to holding Spectrum and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division accountable.” 

Meet Dr. Gear, founder of 4C, in our Q&A

Under the settlement terms, Spectrum commits to convening public forums twice a year to receive comments on the ongoing operations of the plant and maintaining a public hotline for neighbors to call in with any concerns. Demographic analysis of the area around the Spectrum plant shows it is next to a Black and Hispanic, residential neighborhood. In fact, 4 of the 6 air permits in Cook County are adjacent to communities of color.

Spectrum will purchase air monitors which provide pollution data to 4C and the community, as well as filters to be distributed to the churches, daycare centers, and homes closest to where it will operate.  

Spectrum has also agreed to take several measures to limit the noise, traffic, and air pollution from its facility, including monitoring its air pollution control devices on a monthly — rather than annual — basis. In addition, 4C is listed as an enforcer of the agreement terms, with Spectrum agreeing to pay $25,000 to a public health and safety fund for each demonstrated violation of certain air pollution commitments. 

“This settlement agreement will better protect Cook County communities, who have already faced the disproportionate consequences of industry for decades,” says Jennifer Whitfield, Senior Attorney in SELC’s Georgia office. “SELC and 4C will continue our collective work to hold EPD accountable to protect the health and welfare of Adel residents. We value Spectrum’s willingness to listen to 4C’s concerns. From these conversations, Spectrum found a way to transform its aspirations for running a cleaner pellet mill into a commitment to the community.” 

On January 4, SELC and 4C filed a Title VI complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division. Throughout the process of Adel residents requesting protections from EPD based on legacy discrimination, the state agency interpreted its own regulations as prohibiting EPD from taking any steps to assess or redress the disproportionate burdens of its permitting program on the health and welfare of people of color in Georgia. 

“The agreement between Spectrum Energy and the Concerned Citizens of Cook County marks one step forward in a longer fight for environmental justice,” says Chandra Taylor-Sawyer, Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC’s Environmental Justice Initiative. “The community has secured more protections despite Georgia regulators refusing to acknowledge obligations to consider overburdened populations. Now, 4C will continue to work with federal agencies to ensure that future environmental permitting decisions in this community and others will appropriately consider existing burdens before granting new permits to pollute.” 

On January 12, at 6:00 p.m., 4C will hold a town hall meeting at Bethel Baptist Church to share more information with the local public about the settlement agreement with the Spectrum wood pellet plant.