Bioenergy and social injustice in North Carolina

November 15, 2016
Author:
Linde Zuidema

Our Bioenergy campaigner, Linde Zuidema, has been visiting the South-East United States to witness how forests are being destroyed to produce wood pellets for the EU energy market. Here she discovers the impact of the industry on local communities in North Carolina.

Carolina

Communities have not been informed or consulted before about the wood pellet facility. All is decided behind closed doors, and all they tell is lies: lies, lies, lies. The County claims it doesn’t have money to put a new roof on the school, but it does subsidise these harmful facilities.

So says a resident from Sampson County, North Carolina, where a wood pellet factory, turning local ancient hardwood forests into fuel for the EU’s booming bioenergy industry.

In the past week I have been traveling with a group of other environmental NGOs across the South East of the United States to get a better picture of the impacts of wood pellet production for the EU bioenergy market in that region.

As we learned in an earlier blog, the sector drives the destruction of wetland forests and the conversion of biodiverse hardwood forests into pine plantations in an area that has already lost most of its unique wetland forests.

What makes the issue even more striking is the social context in which this all takes place, which became clear after discussing the issue with local residents. The US South East, despite the endless fertile lands, is home to many poor communities. It is exactly in those communities where wood pellet facilities are being built.

A perfect example is the Enviva facility in the village of Ahoskie in Hertford County, North Carolina. The county is poor, with almost 26 per cent of residents living in poverty. Relative to the US average, fewer people have educational degrees and the employment rate and incomes are lower.

The facility in Ahoskie has been built right in the centre of the village without any prior consent of the community, even though the negative impacts of these facilities on the environment and people have proven to be significant.

The most important issue is the impact on air quality in the area. Driving past the facility we can see that the nearest homes are only a few metres away, and the wood dust that the plant produces from time to time covers cars, shops and houses.

The numerous trucks shipping in trees from the surrounding forests and transporting wood pellets to the harbour in Chesapeake, Virginia, for export only make the air quality worse.

A resident of Sampson County, where another wood pellet facility is planned, couldn’t get her head around the fact that forests in the area are being chopped down for energy production in Europe:

“Bioenergy production is causing loss of trees that are purifying our air, while emitting carbon in Europe. Does the EU not care about carbon in the air?

As a sweetener, the industry promises the region economic development and jobs, claiming they are opening a new market for types of wood - tree tops, other residues - that weren’t used before.

But local residents and forest owners doubt the economic value of the industry. They claim that the actual jobs available to the local communities are low and only temporarily, as wood from the forest will eventually be exhausted.

Plus, they refute the industry’s claims that it is opening a new market of forest harvest residues, as these were already used by the existing wood-based industries.

It is not like they made a new discovery here,” one forest owner said. “But the industry is acting like Columbus, claiming it has found new land.

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