Joint Statement from NAACP, EEECHO, Environmental Integrity Project, Southern Echo, Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Dogwood Alliance, and Cut Carbon Not Forests Coalition
Mississippi regulators have fined the Amite wood pellet production facility, owned by Drax, $2,500,000 for breaking environmental rules, the largest known penalty against such a facility in an industry rife with environmental violations. According to the final order from the Mississippi Department on Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Drax Amite has been exceeding volatile organic compound (VOC) limits for years. VOCs are precursors to ground level ozone and smog, which can impair lung function, trigger asthma attacks, and aggravate conditions of people with bronchitis and emphysema. Children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory conditions are the most at risk from ozone pollution.
After attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) first identified these illegal emissions in 2017, Drax eventually conceded the facility emits three to four times the level of VOCs authorized. But not before attempting to hide their true emission levels. According to Patrick Anderson, an attorney for EIP, “Drax first tried to hide their unlawful emissions by submitting extremely dubious emissions test results that were more than 25 times below the true emissions rate.”
Drax Amite converts trees into wood pellets in order to ship them to the United Kingdom to be burned for electricity, subsidized under the mistaken notion that this is carbon neutral and good for the climate. This settlement highlights that Drax is a bad actor that not only harms forests, but also communities most vulnerable to industrial pollution and the impacts of a changing climate, according to environmental justice advocates.
“We are grateful for the state taking steps to penalize Drax for operating illegally, but it’s clear that no matter what, wood pellet production releases dangerous air pollutants that cause chronic respiratory and other health problems associated with higher covid-19 death rates. We deserve the right to breathe clean air,” says Kathy Egland of the NAACP. “MDEQ and state policymakers must immediately review its current permitting and enforcement procedures and end any state permits for pollution, starting with wood pellet producers like Drax.”
In recent years, the wood pellet industry has grown across the south, specifically targeting Alabama and Mississippi for expansion. In July of 2019, the largest wood pellet facility ever was permitted in Lucedale, MS, despite on-the-ground organizing efforts led by justice groups including the NAACP, Southern Echo, EEECHO (Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate, and Health Organization), and the MS Sierra Club. The expansion has gone unchecked while the negative impacts of wood pellets, such as this fine is illustrating, are well documented and shocking.
The Drax Amite wood pellet facility, located near lower-income communities, contributes to pollution both around the production facility and near the power-generating facility in the U.K., where the wood pellets eventually end up. Drax is western Europe’s biggest power station and is the world’s largest consumer of wood pellets– making it the single largest emitter of CO2 in the UK.
“It’s a relief to see Drax being held accountable for polluting the air in Mississippi, but these fines are a drop in the bucket compared to the 2 million per day the UK government hands the company in the form of biomass subsidies,” says Sasha Stashwick, from the Cut Carbon Not Forests Campaign, a coalition of US and UK NGOs. “Drax’s pollution violation makes it clear that dirty biomass subsidies going to the company in the UK must end now.”
In addition to the $2.5 million fine, MDEQ’s final order requires Drax Amite to install a new regenerative catalytic oxidizer to reduce emissions with a stipulated penalty of $80,000 for each month of continued operation as well as a production limit of 40,000 tons per month until the new control is installed.
Ruth Story from EEECHO, finds temporary relief in this settlement: “The biomass industry is nothing like the clean, sustainable answer to climate change it paints itself to be. In fact, it is a major source of air pollution.”
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Katherine Egland, +1 228-617-0891, NAACP
Ari Phillips, firstname.lastname@example.org, Environmental Integrity Project
Ruth Story, +1, 228-223-6885, EEECHO
Rachel Mayes, +1 601-214-3601, Southern Echo
Erniko Brown, +1 864-321-5150, Dogwood Alliance
Daniela Arellano, +1 424-268-6677, Cut Carbon Not Forests