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  • Katherine Egland

Enviva - Op-Ed by Kathy Published in the Sun Herald

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

There is definitely a tremendous need for industry with living wage job opportunities to infuse Mississippi’s stagnant economy. However, our quest for economic advancement should not be at the expense of our health and welfare.

Lucedale, Mississippi, continues to be wooed by the empty promises of the world’s largest wood pellets manufacturer, Enviva. Enviva’s courtship of other Southeastern states has reportedly resulted in unfulfilled promises, deceit and toxic levels of pollution. Clean Air Carolina, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Environmental Integrity Project, filed a lawsuit against Enviva and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The suit was recently settled with separate agreements signed by Enviva and NCDEQ requiring Enviva to be classified as a major source of air pollution, install more effective pollution controls, and expand its record keeping and reporting conditions at its Hamlet, N.C., facility. As a result of these agreements, hazardous toxic exposure will now be reduced by a colossal 95% at the Hamlet facility. These basic safeguards for human health should have been required of Enviva at the permitting phase. Instead, legal action was necessitated to force Enviva and NCDEQ to act in the best interest of the people of North Carolina.

Initially, Hamlet’s residents, like Lucedale’s, urged their Department of Environmental Quality to approve Enviva’s permit for economic reasons — despite the warnings of scientists and environmental and health activists to deny the proposal, pending further comprehensive analyses.

As in North Carolina, Enviva’s current permit proposal with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is virtually devoid of substantive controls to protect public health and preserve quality of life. Claims that MDEQ’s permitting requirements for the proposed Enviva processing plant are “stricter” than EPA’s are grossly misleading. By reducing the emissions limits to 245 tons, Enviva avoids the protections and regulatory oversight required at the 250-tons limit. Lowering the emissions limits by a mere 2% eliminates the crucial requirement of environmental impact modeling and the mandate to apply the EPA’s general duty clause, which would offer greater oversight, monitoring, safety, protection and prevention. The terms of the pending permit application allows Enviva extensive latitude in self- monitoring, self-testing and self-reporting and renders MDEQ the sole oversight authority.

The existing application clearly favors industry cost savings at the risk of human health and well-being by eliminating additional EPA oversight and optimum applicable safeguards.

The Environmental Integrity Project is comprised of former EPA enforcement attorneys, public interest lawyers, analysts, investigators and community organizers. It is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that advocates for effective enforcement of environmental laws. They commissioned an environmental impact study of Enviva Lucedale and forwarded the results to MDEQ. EIP’s research/ study has shown that Enviva has significantly underestimated its estimations and calculations in its permit application to MDEQ.

The people of Mississippi deserve the best possible protections against the threats posed by this immensely toxic and potentially combustible industrial process. Given the $17 million in incentives awarded to Enviva, there is no excuse for unnecessarily exposing communities to perilous pollutants — especially when there are remedies that could offer much better regulatory oversight and controls.

It’s time for our elected officials and regulatory authorities to explore cleaner, safer economic alternatives for our state and send a clear message that Mississippi is not a toxic dumping ground.

Katherine T. Egland is chairwoman of the Environmental and Climate Justice Committee / NAACP National Board of Directors.

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