Robeson County Rises Up in Opposition to the AERP Pellet Mill

On Monday, June 22nd, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) held a virtual public hearing for a proposed Active Energy Renewable Power (AERP) black wood pellet facility in Lumberton, NC.

The local community has expressed concern over the facility’s pollution, the proposed siting in a flood zone and in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and the ongoing pandemic.

In Robeson County, where the population is 42% Native American and 24% African-American, the county is ranked worst in the state of North Carolina for health outcomes. According to NC DEQ’s own Community Mapping Tool, residents of Robeson County live with at least a dozen pollution sources. Many people are still rebuilding after Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence devastated homes, roads, and other infrastructure due to the extreme flooding that made this North Carolina community the subject of national headlines.

It was a powerful hearing despite the technological challenges, including lack of broadband access for nearly 50% of Robeson County. Out of the dozens of comments made including a local state representative and a member of the county commission, only three people supported the new mill, and they were all employees of AERP.

Below are a few quotes from numerous people in attendance:

“The shame of this is that every community being saddled with these dirty industries looks the same. It’s called environmental racism. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why you have a Title VI if it’s not going to impact your decision-making.”

Naeema Muhammad of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Coalition

Editor’s note: Title VI, enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

“I have been following the wood pellet industry for years and noted that there is a consistent and troubling issue of underestimating the emissions of wood pellet plants.”

Attorney Patrick Anderson of the Environmental Integrity Project

“I’m opposed and I’m livid and I’m seeing what it’s doing. People are profiting and we are suffering. We pay tax dollars, we are citizens, we are human, and we are not allowed the opportunity to live as humans when you allow these plants into our community.”

Belinda Joyner of Clean Water for North Carolina

“I managed to go to a friend’s house to use their wifi because I think it is a matter of life or death. Black wood pellets have not been commercially tested in the United States. We’re already a county with high poverty rates and a lot of people with underlying issues, with COVID-19, and experimenting with our air quality may be a death sentence. AERP took advantage of this county by promising jobs. Yes, we need jobs, but not at the expense of our health.”

Concerned resident of Lumberton, NC

“We know it’s going to hurt us and not help us. We are sick of being the dumping and experimental grounds to find out if something is going to work that hurts us. Put it in North Lumberton. I’m speaking for South Lumberton, those that don’t have the necessities and the affordability to get on this call. This cannot go on. We cannot continue to be the sacrificing ground because we are Black and Brown. Air is invisible, but it is necessary.”

4th generation resident of Robeson County

“I’m opposed to this plant but would reconsider if you wanted to put the plant behind Chapel Hill. It’s time to stop what seems to be a purposeful assassination of Native American health across the United States.”

David Lowry, Associate Professor of Anthropology and member of the Lumbee Tribe

“At this time I cannot support this industry coming into our county…I would ask DEQ to slow down, give our community a chance to understand what’s going on here in this process.”

State Rep. Charles Graham (D-47, Robeson County)

“This is not climate action, this is a mistake.”

Erin Carey, Coastal Programs Manager for NC Sierra Club

The deadline for comments is June 26th, you can submit your own here.

To read Dogwood Alliance’s comments, please go here.

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