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Controversial air pollution permit approved for Mississippi wood pellet plant

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Environmental regulators in Mississippi have controversially approved an air pollution permit for what could be the largest wood pellet plant in the world.

The state’s Environmental Quality Permit Board voted unanimously to issue a permit for Enviva’s $140 million (€125.8 million) plant in Lucedale, Mississippi. However, those who oppose the plans claim that emissions produced by the plant under the new permit would still exceed the state’s standards for toxic air pollutants.

The Mississippi Department for Environmental Quality (MDEQ) said that it had imposed limits on emissions that meet state legislation, and that carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions had been held within standards preventing serious deterioration, according to Magnolia State Live. The department also stated it was aware of issues at other plants and imposed stricter requirements with this permit.

In response to recent criticism, Yana Kravtsova, Enviva’s vice-president of environmental affairs and chief compliance officer, acknowledged that the company has made changes periodically to emissions estimates for its wood pellet plants to reflect adjustments in the way the plant is operated and to reflect the most recent data from its facilities. Kravtsova’s statement, reported by The Tidewater News, continued: “We have a culture of continuous improvement at Enviva and perform periodic testing as required under the applicable permits at our facilities.

“We use that test data to inform and improve our processed company-wide. This includes periodically updating emissions factors under the permits to reflect the most recent emissions data from our facilities or changes in operating parameters such as wood mix or throughput.”

Enviva plans to export the wood pellets to European and Asian utilities, which can burn them to generate electricity in place of coal, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The debate surrounding Enviva’s wood pellet plant has filtered through to public hearings for similar projects across the US. The company claims that the trees it buys for its mills have helped timber growers and owners to keep their land as forests rather than convert them for agricultural or industrial purposes. However, opponents claim that the loss of trees and the energy used in production and shipping wood pellets is more detrimental to the environment than burning coal.

A joint statement released by the Environmental Integrity Project, Education, the Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organisation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Healthy Gulf, the Mississippi State Climate Reality Project, The People’s Justice Council and the Dogwood Alliance said: “The decision and the Board’s refusal to listen to concerns shows that the State of Mississippi is prioritising protecting its significant investment of taxpayer dollars in the rail and port facilities to handle the pellets over protecting the health of its people.

“The Enviva Lucedale wood pellet plant will have a disastrous effect on the people, wildlife, and climate of Mississippi and it is therefore time for the MDEQ board to listen to the people of Mississippi not just rich, powerful industries. All the people have is their voice and they were denied even that at this hearing.”