The International Day of Action on Biomass

From the piney woods of Mississippi, to the swamps of Georgia, and over to the wetlands of the coast of North Carolina, I love the forests of our region dearly. My eyes light up every time I see magnificent trees kiss the Southern skies. You don’t grow up surrounded by that type of beauty and not want to protect it for the rest of your life. I’m always so inspired by communities that rally together to fight for protection and justice.

In that spirit, Thursday, October 21, 2021 was the International Day of Action on Biomass.

We watched as people all over the region and the world took a stand against the billions of subsidies governments (like those in the US, UK, and EU) spend on burning trees for energy.

In Gloster, Mississippi, community members gathered to determine ways to fight back against Drax’s wood pellet production facility in their community, which has brought noise, dust, and air pollutants to their town. In fact, this Drax facility emitted 3x the legal level of pollution for several years, leading to a $2.5 million fine—the largest ever biomass fine in the area. Like many communities where biomass plants and pellet production mills are located, Gloster is considered an environmental justice community, a community of mainly BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) that has a high percentage of residents that live below the poverty line.

Image by The People’s Justice Council

Concerned community members living on the North Carolina and Virginia coast toured the wetlands in Enviva’s sourcing radius to raise awareness of its detrimental impacts. Even though every single facility had major community pushback in the planning phase, North Carolina approved the permits for all the proposed wood pellet production mills and production expansions. Not only do the mills emit hazardous air pollutants, but Enviva sources wood from bottomland hardwood forests in the area, harming the fragile ecosystem and stripping nearby communities of a critical storm buffer. But Enviva doesn’t factor in the environmental and community harms in their decision-making.

One thing has become clear with each community we’ve fought alongside to stop new facilities regardless of city, county, or state:

The laws meant to protect the environment are failing communities because systemic injustice is baked in.

For example, all five counties with pellet production plants in North Carolina are Tier 1 environmental justice counties. The percentage of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) ranges from 55% to 91% with an average poverty rate of 27%. Environmental justice (EJ) communities are twice as likely to have a wood pellet production facility than other communities.

State agencies ignore the cumulative impacts of polluting industries. They approve new, dirty wood pellet manufacturing facilities in communities where residents already suffer the effects of pollution from incinerators, hazardous waste sites, sewage treatment plants, hog farms, and more.

Everyone has a right to clean air and water, regardless of zip code.

This map shows the location of existing wood pellet mills. The shading indicates environmental justice designated communities in the South. Research finds that there is a greater than 50% likelihood that future wood pellet mills will be located in EJ communities.

Our state departments of environmental quality and environmental protection are failing us. But we believe in a different world.

One in which everyone– regardless of their zip code, income, or race– has the right to protected forests. The right to resiliency against climate change and its related storms. The right to voice their concerns and have state agencies and representatives hear and respect those concerns in decision-making.

We’re still gathering together with communities affected by the wood pellet biomass industry to say: the wood pellet industry is devastating our forests, climate, and communities. We’ve had enough, even if local officials or the industry try to intimidate us with baseless threats of raised utility bills or loss of jobs. We know they make these threats because they see our movement is powerful.

Erniko Brown, Regional Partnership Engagement Manager, leading an organizing training in Mississippi, a state with 7 proposed and operating wood pellet facilities.

For decades, forest policy in the US has served to ensure economic returns for large corporations and private landowners. This comes at the expense of healthy forests, workers, and communities. The forestry industry has manipulated language to their advantage. They call tree plantations “forests.” They falsely claim that logging is the main source of economic development. They falsely claim that younger trees offer more climate benefit than old growth. These myths aren’t scientifically sound and go against basic common sense.

Our grassroots power is building. Thanks to people like you who care deeply about protecting forests and fighting environmental injustice.

The International Day of Action may be over, but you can still help. It’s time to hold the forestry industry accountable for its climate, biodiversity, and community impacts.

Urge President Biden to establish strong, ecologically-sound, and environmentally-just protections for our forests and communities.

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