Speaking Truth to Power in the Gulf South

The Gulf South is home to some of the most beautiful and unique forests in the country, particularly wetland forests, and the people who live here are as strong and vibrant as the forests they rely on.

The Gulf is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the United States and also a global hotspot for biodiversity.

Unfortunately, both these ecosystems and communities are under threat from an expanding wood pellet industry and a changing climate.

Enviva wants to build the world’s largest wood pellet facility in Lucedale, Mississippi. If built, this facility would have the capacity to produce 1.4 million tons of wood pellets per year.

Their sourcing would include 225,000 tons of wood pellets from hardwood forests – endangering the wetlands and bottomland hardwoods that make this region so special.

In addition to its globally recognized biodiversity, Mississippi’s forests provide critical protection from storms and flooding, and store enormous amounts of carbon. Enviva’s facility would threaten all of that by requiring up to 130,000 acres of forests to be cut down every year.

But a movement is rising to challenge the threat of the Enviva facility.

More than 3,000 people sent in comments opposing the construction of the Enviva facility. Because of your dedication to protecting our forests, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) extended the public comment period, and held a public hearing.

Last week, the Dogwood Alliance team joined with partners and neighbors in Lucedale, Mississippi for the public hearing on Enviva’s massive 1.4 million ton proposed wood pellet plant. Alongside mighty environmental justice advocates from across Mississippi and Alabama, we spoke truth to power. Together we stood strong in the face of an audience of loggers, landowners looking to cash in, and Enviva employees to make our voices heard by state elected officials and the Mississippi DEQ.

Enviva and the industry representatives supporting the plant made their priorities clear: the financial benefit of this plant. They spoke primarily of the jobs that Enviva would bring. Enviva promises the world to local and state governments, and the communities receive a pittance in return for their natural resources being cut down and exported halfway around the world. No matter the climate, environmental, economic, or public health grievances that the neighbors were recognizing they would incur, it was a price they were willing to pay in return for the economic stimulus.

We understand the need for jobs. But we reject the idea that Enviva is the vehicle to take Lucedale to prosperity.

If extractive industry and industrial logging were a way to pull communities out of poverty and to improve our quality of life, the Southeast would be one of the wealthiest regions in the world. But that is simply not the case.

In fact, it has been quite the opposite. Enviva has yet to jumpstart the local economies in the counties where it has plants. In Northampton County, NC, Enviva opened a plant in 2013. Since that time, the poverty rate has actually increased from 26.3 percent to 28.5 percent.

We do not believe that people should be forced to choose between a job and their health.

At the hearing, Rachel Weber of Dogwood Alliance said:

“No community should have to choose between good, well-paying jobs and their quality of life. Or their air quality. Or the health of their environment. We need to be investing in economic development that is truly clean and sustainable.”

Industry representatives and supporters continue to deceive the public, lawmakers, and investors about their impacts on forests and the climate. But our group made sure that Enviva’s destruction did not go unspoken.

Rita Frost of Dogwood Alliance made clear the impacts on our forests:

“We have lost 33 million acres of our natural forests in the past 50 years. And this facility would require, at minimum, 5,400 acres of hardwood natural forests to be logged per year. These forests are protecting our neighbors to the south and east from flooding from disastrous hurricanes like Katrina and Harvey.”

Mobile Bay Sierra Club wrote:

“We question whether construction of the Enviva plant that depends upon the referenced permit represents the type of industrial activity that should be permitted in the region. It is the position of the [Mobile Bay] Sierra Club that granting the air quality equipment construction permit cannot and should not be decided without considering the associated long-term adverse regional impacts that would occur to the extensive forest resources occurring within the plant’s effective operational area in both Mississippi and Alabama.”

Reverend Malcolm of the People’s Justice Council summed up our overall thoughts when he characterized Enviva as “a bad neighbor. Not good for the community or the planet.”

Mississippi DEQ will make a final decision on this permit as early as June 2019. We hope that MDEQ will not cater to industry interests, and will make a decision that reflects their responsibility to safeguard the environment and the people of the Gulf South.

The threats to our environment and lives are too real to be brushed off with the promise of short-term jobs.

In Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, where Enviva will be logging forests to feed their mills, 30% of the existing forestland is monoculture pine plantations. These pine plantations are no substitute for the natural forests they replace. In fact, they can be deadly to the endemic species that rely on specific Gulf ecosystems. In Mississippi, there are 85 species of animals and plants that are endangered. Most of these are freshwater animals that have been impacted by changing water conditions. In Alabama, just across the border from Lucedale, the figures are even more alarming. Alabama has already lost 90 species to extinction, and the state ranks number two in the US for total extinctions. Alabama ranks fourth for species in danger of extinction: approximately 1 out of every 7 species in the state is at risk.

Communities are hurting, too. According to the Poor People’s Campaign, 20,771 tons of NOx, a leading cause of respiratory problems, are emitted yearly in Mississippi.

Yet the industries that poison Mississippi’s air and water continue to profit.

Mississippi has spent at least $1.4 billion in public subsidies for corporations over the past five years without doing as much as they could to ensure funds are used to create good green jobs for low-income communities.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has a responsibility to ensure that Enviva complies with clean air and clean water standards. State policymakers have a responsibility to the people of Mississippi: to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and that their constituents have clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment.

We believe in a future with 100% clean energy, where we’ve let our natural forests grow old and wild, and a new green economy has brought health and prosperity to communities across the South.

We are grateful for our partners and supporters who continue to work towards this vision, and speak truth to power. It takes courage to fight for the world we want, but we are not alone. Across the South, the movement for justice and forest protection is growing.

Join the Movement: Sign the Stand4Forests Pledge to support a future where forests are valued more standing than logged.

3 Responses to “Speaking Truth to Power in the Gulf South”

  1. Enid D Cardinal

    These trees are an essential part of life, for wildlife and sequestering carbon and human life as we it today. Our earth cannot afford to loose these trees. They are also extremely important in helping deter extreme damage from hurricanes.

  2. Be assured of the fullest support from a wide variety of the population in the UK, and a great number of action groups there …


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