Forest protection advocates joined Democrats State Sen. Erica Smith and Rep. Cynthia Ball today in calling for stronger controls on the wood pellet industry in order to preserve the state’s timber stands and potentially blunt local effects of climate change.
The Enviva wood pellet plant in Garysburg uses the equivalent of 50 acres of forest per day, said Sen. Smith, and the air emissions from the facility are “concerning” many of her constituents. Enviva uses North Carolina and Virginia timber to produce wood pellets that are then shipped to the United Kingdom, where they are burned in lieu of coal. Contrary to industry talking points, science shows wood is not a renewable energy source. The timbering and burning of wood releases carbon dioxide into the air; even when trees are replanted, it can take decades before they’re old enough to store significant amounts of carbon.
“Hurricane Florence has brought climate change to our doorsteps,” said Danna Smith, executive director of the Dogwood Alliance. “The severity of storms and flooding are indeed due to climate change. Scientists say we must protect forests to avert climate change. Leaving forests in ground smartest thing we can do to protect community from extreme weather events.”
Forests help prevent or reduce flooding, such as what occurred during Hurricane Florence, because the soils beneath them tend to be relatively porous, according to “Forest and Floods,” published by the International Water Resources Association. Consequently, there is less runoff and erosion.
“This is not necessarily the case for plantation forests,” the article goes on, referring to replanted timber stands, “particularly where no natural understory of vegetation is main-tained or where management activities involving site preparation, cultivation, drainage, road construction, and logging may have detrimental effects.”
All four Enviva plants are located in or near low-income neighborhoods or communities of color. The company often uses the lure of jobs to convince local governments to allow it to locate in their towns and cities. For example, Richmond County allowed Enviva to build a plant in Hamlet, just north of the largely Black town of Dobbins Heights.
Debra David, who lives in Dobbins Heights, lamented that citizens couldn’t stop the plant. “We have to live with the negative impacts: air pollution, noise, truck traffic, loss of forests. We looked to elected officials and were disappointed. We want no further expansion of Enviva.”
Earlier this year, representatives from the timber sector spoke at a meeting of the Joint Energy Policy Committee to rally legislative support for the industry.
Chris Brown of the NC Forestry Association, which attended that meeting, did not return an email seeking comment on today’s press conference.
Many universities, such as NC State, have forestry programs that encourage “management” of woodlands. Prescribed burns, for example, can help reduce the chance of wildfires. But depending on the program, the curriculum can encourage timbering as a management tool.
Thomas Easley of the Yale School of Forestry said as academics, “we need to rethink how our forests are valued. They provide biodiversity and storm and flood protection. The way we treat our forests is the way we treat our people.”
Smith, a Democrat representing six counties in northeastern North Carolina, including Northampton and Hertford, where two Enviva wood pellet plants are located, said a bill could be introduced in the long legislative session to address the environmental and social justice issues presented by these industries.
“It doesn’t have to be an either or,” Sen. Smith said of the balance between economic development and environmental protection.
“We can’t log our way out of climate change,” said Danna Smith of Dogwood Alliance, “and we can’t log our way out of poverty.”