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Siting of wood pellet production facilities in environmental justice communities in the Southeastern United States

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Post Last Updated: December 2022

About This Piece

This piece was originally created & published in April 2018

This was my first article that was completely different from my dissertation work. Although he's not credited, my first Duke Stanback intern did the preliminary analysis for this piece. We tried to get in touch with him to give him authorship, but he never got back with us. In any case - it was a deep dive into the geographic location of brand new, large scale bioenergy facilities. We found that they were overwhelmingly being placed in low-income communities of color, coined "Environmental Justice communities." We've published extensively on this issue over at Dogwood Alliance and I was so grateful that Stefan and I had the chance to join the scientific literature on this issue. Plus - it's open access!

Article Abstract

As efforts to decarbonize the electric sector take on increased urgency, governments are turning to wood pellets as a potential renewable energy resource. However, the production of pellets from woody biomass has immediate community-wide impacts on air and water quality.

This article investigates the siting of wood pellet production facilities in the southeastern United States and finds that they are 50% more likely to be located in environmental justice (EJ)-designated communities. We define an EJ community as a county where the poverty level is above the state median and at least 25% of the population is nonwhite.

In addition, we find that all biomass pellet mills in North Carolina and South Carolina are in EJ communities. There is a longstanding history of EJ communities being disproportionately targeted for the siting of coal and natural gas power plants, in addition to waste-to-energy plants and landfills.

Wood pellet production facilities are similar to these plants in their emissions of harmful particulate matter, airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and their degradation of local water quality. Wood pellet production is increasing rapidly in the southeastern United States. These data add to growing evidence that biomass pellet mills in the southeastern United States place an undue burden on economically depressed areas of color.

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