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Pellet plant permit delayed amid environmental justice concerns

121022 Enviva Ahoskie2 - Dogwood.jpg
Dogwood Alliance
A logging truck unloads chips made from logged trees at Enviva's wood pellet factory in Ahoskie, in Hertford County, N.C.

State officials have delayed approving an expansion for a wood pellet plant in northeastern North Carolina while they consider concerns about how the plant affects the environment and nearby communities of color.

The state Department of Environmental Quality was supposed to decide two weeks ago whether to issue an air quality permit for the pellet plant in Ahoskie, in Hertford County, operated by Maryland-based Enviva. The company has four North Carolina plants that turn local trees into wood pellets that are shipped to Europe to be burned for electricity.

The DEQ says officials are taking extra time to consider concerns raised at a mid-November meeting of the state Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board.

The environmental justice board had requested the Nov. 17 hearing to consider the impacts of wood pellet plants on the environment and communities. Speakers said dust and other pollutants, noise and traffic disproportionately affect low-income residents of color.

The permit would allow the Ahoskie plant to expand production by 31%. In a statement Thursday, Enviva said the permit would require it to install new equipment to handle dust and other emissions:

"We look forward to receiving the Air Quality Permit for our Ahoskie plant following a thorough review by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) and the EPA. This permit would authorize us to begin installing and operating additional state-of-the-art emission control equipment — including a regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO), and a regenerative thermal or catalytic oxidizer (RTO/RCO) — to support the expansion of our plant."

DEQ spokesman Shawn Taylor said the agency updated the draft permit this summer "in response to community concerns during the public comment period." Early last month, EPA told the state that it had no comments or concerns.

Taylor said DEQ says it has no timeline for issuing the permit.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.