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Settlement to reduce pollution from Richmond County wood pellet plant

The Enviva facility in Ahoskie, N.C., in 2013. Enviva’s CEO says the company is strengthening N.C. forests.
The Enviva facility in Ahoskie, N.C., in 2013. Enviva’s CEO says the company is strengthening N.C. forests. 2013 file photo

This article was updated with a statement from Enviva.

The wood pellet manufacturer Enviva agreed to add more pollution controls to a plant it’s building in Richmond County to settle a legal complaint brought by environmental groups.

Enviva agreed to add equipment to reduce the release of harmful gases from its manufacturing equipment in Hamlet after Clean Air Carolina filed a complaint in state administrative court against the company and the state Department of Environmental Quality.

In its administrative court complaint, the environmental group argued the state was not requiring the plant do enough to control air pollutants.

Wood pellet plants emit gases called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can produce ground-level ozone and harm health.

“Residents of Richmond County already face some of the worst health outcomes in our state,” June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina, said in a statement. “The new air pollution controls required by this settlement will decrease hazardous air pollutants and VOC emissions, reducing two additional threats to the communities’ health.”

In an emailed statement, Enviva said its manufacturing plants use the best emissions control technology available and “we work closely with environmental regulators to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act.”

“Enviva works tirelessly to minimize the impact of our operations on the local communities where we operate by demonstrating our continued commitment to environmental stewardship,” the statement continued. “We have always worked to ensure that we comply with all environmental law requirements and address public concerns raised in our business.”

The Environmental Integrity Project and the Southern Environmental Law Center represented Clean Air Carolina. The agreement will result in a reduction in VOCs of at least 95 percent, according to the environmentalist groups.

Wood pellet manufacturing is a growing industry in the state. The United Kingdom is a major market for wood pellets, where they are burned for energy as a replacement for coal, according to Public Radio International and other news outlets. Enviva has three plants in the state, not including the plant in Hamlet, according to the company’s website.

DEQ and Enviva entered into a separate agreement for the company to add the pollution control equipment.

Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.
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