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Environmental group, community activists petition EPA to block Georgia wood pellet plant

Environmental group, community activists petition EPA to block Georgia wood pellet plant
© BORIS HORVAT/AFP via Getty Images

An environmental advocacy group has joined with local activists to petition the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to block the construction of a wood pellet plant in south Georgia, arguing its permit was secured without community input and threatens public health.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Concerned Citizens of Cook County, along with six other groups, said in the petition that Georgia’s Clean Air Act program allows public comment on draft permits for new sources of air pollutants proposed in their communities. However, the Environmental Protection Division of the state Department of Natural Resources in January denied a request to comment on a draft permit authorizing the Renewable Biomass Group facility in Adel.

In 2017, amid an increase in construction of wood pellet plants in the southern U.S., EIP began looking at their air pollution permits, Keri Powell, an attorney for the group and the author of the petition, told The Hill.

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“In pretty short order we realized they had been drastically underestimating their emissions and they had been coming in under the Clean Air Act as minor sources” of pollution, Powell said. For example, Mississippi fined Drax Amite $2.5 million in November after watchdog groups reported it was emitting air pollutants far above its permit limits.

While the Adel facility has proposed air pollution controls, Powell added, “the concern here is the community wanted to have the opportunity to critique their actual draft permits.”

“All Georgia was willing to do was let the public see the facility’s application … the community in Adel, they really don’t want this facility located there,” Powell added. “The very nearby community that is predominantly African-American banded together” in an effort to halt its production.

Treva Gear, a founding member of Concerned Citizens of Cook County, told The Hill the construction of the facility could turn Adel into “the Flint, Michigan of the South.”

“It’s going to worsen our health conditions,” she told The Hill. “We really are trying to save our town from bringing in these types of industries … it’s going to hurt the people more than it’s going to benefit them. We want jobs, but we don’t want dirty industries.”

The proposed site, she added, is only about a mile from the nearest residential area.

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“Our city has a sordid affair with the wood industry period,” she said. “We have an old abandoned site for which there are still toxins in the ground that affect groundwater, a whole lot of people who have gotten cancer.”

Also affected, Gear said, would be a local nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary maintained by the organization EdenArk. The proposed site of the plant is about 1.3 miles from this area, she said.

“The coming of this wood pellet plant sounds a death knell for our community,” she added.

The Hill has reached out to the EPA and Renewable Biomass Group for comment.