Community Leaders Continue to Speak Out

Last week, we stood together with community leaders and climate justice advocates to host a press conference about the destructive impacts of the wood pellet industry and other extractive industries in the state. Following the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board Meeting, Belinda Joyner of the Concerned Citizens of Northampton County and Debra David of the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County shared their experiences living with the impacts of polluting industries — including Enviva wood pellet facilities, hog factories, Duke Energy’s power plants, and the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Rachel Velez of Clean Water for North Carolina holds a sign that reads "Northampton County is not a Blast Zone or Sacrifice Zone" in front of other sign-holders
Community members and advocates hold signs at the press conference in support of climate justice and in opposition to extractive industries and dirty energy.

Emily Zucchino, Dogwood Alliance’s Director of Community Engagement, and William Barber III of the NC Poor People’s Campaign and Climate Reality Project also spoke, renewing calls on Governor Cooper’s administration and DEQ to issue a cumulative impact assessment of extractive industries in the state, starting with the wood pellet industry.

The meeting and press conference came on the heels of DEQ approving Enviva’s third massive expansion this year — this time at its dirty Northampton County facility, just a few miles from Belinda’s home. Each time Enviva applied to expand, community members and North Carolinians from across the state spoke out in favor of forest protection and climate justice, urging DEQ to deny the production increases.

Belinda Joyner speaks at a press conference
Belinda Joyner of Garysburg, NC, Concerned Citizens of Northampton County

“They [DEQ] had a public hearing in three different counties, and to come back with the same result, I find something wrong with that… Because they did not listen to anything that we said in Northampton County. They did not hear the cries of the people who can’t sit on their porches, can’t hang their clothes on the line, with trucks 24/7 up and down the highway.” – Belinda Joyner, Concerned Citizens of Northampton County

Throughout the press conference and at the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board meeting beforehand, we kept hearing a similar refrain — a call on DEQ to stop treating communities like dumping grounds and sacrifice zones.

Debra David speaks at a press conference
Debra David of Dobbins Heights, NC, Concerned Citizens of Richmond County

“Where I live in Dobbins Heights, we already have Duke Energy, Piedmont Gas, Perdue Farms, CSX Railroad, Trinity Chemical Factory, and we have Enviva built on top of that. So I feel like we are a dumping ground.” – Debra David, Concerned Citizens of Richmond County

The seriousness of the climate crisis demands transformative action to transition to a clean energy economy and dramatically scale up forest protection. Issuing permits now for expanded forest destruction and new fossil fuel infrastructure locks in dangerous emissions for decades to come, at a time when we urgently need decision-makers to pull the brakes on these harmful industries.

William Barber III speaks at a press conference
William Barber III, NC Poor People’s Campaign and Climate Reality Project

“When we allow our communities to be encroached upon by fossil fuel infrastructure, whether it be pipelines or power plants, and when we allow our forests to be cut down and consumed, it increases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being dumped into our global atmosphere and lowers the probability that we will act in enough time to minimize the worst effects of the environmental crisis.” – William Barber III, NC Poor People’s Campaign and Climate Reality Project

Emily Zucchino speaks at a press conference
Emily Zucchino, Dogwood Alliance

“Those hit first and worst by climate change are often the very communities who live with the pollution and disruption of the industries that have caused and are worsening the climate crisis. Yet our state laws and regulations keep us bound to a system that approves industry in a silo, failing to consider the full and long-lasting impacts.”

Destructive industries like the wood pellet industry have been approved to expand repeatedly, without proper scrutiny of their full impacts on our forests, climate, community resiliency, and public health. It’s time for the Cooper administration to conduct a cumulative impact assessment of the industry’s full impacts, and not continue to allow them to go unaccounted for.

After these leaders spoke out to call for a cumulative impact assessment and shared their experiences, we gathered for community reflections — a powerful session facilitated by Jodi Lasseter, co-convener of the NC Climate Justice Collective.

The group gathers in a circle for community reflections
We gathered in a circle at the Walnut Creek Wetland Center to make space for community reflections.

The permitting of Enviva’s expansion has failed to reflect the real concerns of North Carolinians across the state, and these expansions will be a tremendous loss for our forests and communities. So as we continue to urge our decision-makers to halt the expansion of this destructive industry, we also make space to recognize and mourn the devastating impacts of these facilities.

We ended the day with gratitude, in recognition that the movement for forest protection, climate action, and justice for all grows stronger every day — and we’re strongest when we stand together.

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