By: Julia Weil, Organizing Intern
While switching to green energy is typically beneficial for human health, a higher standard for what is classified as “green energy” is required to protect vulnerable communities. An example of this is the definition of renewable resources, which allows Europe, which pledged to decrease fossil fuel use, to consider biomass a viable renewable alternative, though it is not carbon neutral.
What is Biomass? Biomass can be made up of wood, wood processing wastes, agricultural crops, agricultural waste, and manure. When this type of renewable material is burned, energy is produced. However, the production of some of these materials can be particularly harmful. In this case, Europe’s outsourcing of biomass includes a crucial “loophole,” which causes damage to the environment. For example, trees that are still rooted are leveled in order to produce greater quantities of wood pellets.
Because of the definition of biomass used by the European Union, they were able to declare themselves to be the first to use more renewable energy than fossil fuels. However, the enormous increase in the use of biomass caused people in the US – specifically, people living in the South – to suffer.
Enviva, the largest producer of “industrial wood pellets” – a type of biomass – was operating two facilities in North Carolina, processing this type of biomass far away from the location where the benefits of the “green energy” would be reaped. It should be noted that this type of biomass is not produced in the EU, therefore, Europe is able to report fewer emissions than were emitted throughout the entire process. The Enviva website, www.envivabiomass.com, advertises clean, green energy, and uses language promising a decrease in emissions from importing materials, however, there is no mention of the consequences suffered by the communities where these plants are located. The locations of the Enviva facilities highlight yet another case of environmental racism – eight of the nine plants located in the United States are in areas with a higher Black population than that of the entire state. Furthermore, “all of Enviva’s plants are in census tracts that have lower median household incomes than their states, and eight of the nine…are in tracts with higher poverty rates than their states as a whole.” Two of the major health concerns experienced by communities affected by Enviva’s production of biomass include defects from the significant increases in air pollution and sleep deprivation from noise.
As is true of most environmental concerns, the production of this type of biomass is one example that can be linked to the harmful effects it has on the environment and to the communities where biomass is produced. There are clean alternatives to energy that are less damaging, and they should continue to be championed as replacements for fossil fuels, such as wind and solar power. However, even with these sources of energy, it is crucial to take into consideration what communities will be adversely impacted by the expansion of our infrastructure, and what is needed to ensure that affected communities are the first to benefit from “green energy.”
Photo Credit: https://www.yourdailyjournal.com/news/74166/dogwood-alliance-concerned-citizens-of-richmond-county-mount-last-ditch-opposition-to-enviva-pellet-plant