We Can’t Breathe: Stop Enviva and Other Polluters

Written by Danna Smith and Reverend Leo Woodberry

Enviva, the world’s largest manufacturer of wood pellets for export to Europe has applied for a permit to expand pollution at its facility in Greenwood, South Carolina. Wood Pellet production facilities release dangerous air pollutants that cause chronic respiratory and other health problems associated with higher COVID-19 death rates.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) should deny Enviva’s application to expand pollution while the COVID pandemic continues to spread across the state.

Citizens are worried enough about their families and neighbors, without having to worry about the added risk of death associated with breathing in more toxic air pollution.

Governor McMaster has taken numerous steps to limit business operations to ensure the safety of SC citizens, including requiring face masks and limiting capacity in “nonessential” businesses, such as restaurants and beauty salons. But, to date nothing has been done to limit nonessential businesses that emit pollutants known to cause respiratory illnesses that put communities at even greater risk of death from COVID. That’s why a caravan of cars with signs that read “We Can’t Breathe: Stop Enviva” circled DHEC offices and the Governor’s Mansion recently.

Both the pandemic and Enviva’s pollution disproportionately impact African Americans.

Though African Americans make up 27% of the population, they account for 46% of the state’s COVID deaths. Polluting facilities which emit hazardous air pollution are disproportionately located in communities of color, a major reason why they suffer at higher rates from the underlying chronic health issues linked to COVID deaths.

Like other polluters, Enviva targets communities of color.

All five of the company’s wood pellet mills in the Carolinas, including its mill in Greenwood, are located in low income communities with large populations of people of color. Why would the state permit Enviva — a Maryland-based company supplying a nonessential product to foreign countries — to emit even more pollution known to make it harder to breathe, increasing the risk of death during a public health crisis?

DHEC reported the ongoing spread of COVID-19 with 691 new confirmed cases and 11 new deaths this week. The total number of deaths in South Carolina due to COVID is now 3,464.

Expanding pollution in Greenwood, or any other community for that matter, during this time is immoral, unjust, and unnecessary.

Image courtesy of Views From Above

Protecting the lives of all citizens of South Carolina must be the government’s top priority. Governor McMaster, DHEC, and our state legislators must take the necessary steps to ensure that no SC citizens are put at increased risk by polluters. DHEC is scheduled to make a decision about the Enviva permit at the end of the month. All citizens of SC who value the lives of their families, friends, and neighbors should contact the governor, their state legislators, and DHEC to demand an immediate stop to any state permits for pollution, starting with Enviva.

We all deserve the right to breathe clean air.

Reverend Leo Woodberry and Danna Smith, co-authors of this blog

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