The Pulse

Demonstrators gather outside Enviva’s Raleigh office to protest wood pellet industry

By: - May 18, 2023 10:00 am
Photo of protesters known as the Raging Grannies. They are dressed in colorful hats and aprons with protest buttons. They are demonstrating against Enviva's wood pellet industry.

The Raging Grannies were among about 30 protesters outside Enviva’s office in Raleigh. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Crowned with colorful hats, their aprons studded with protest buttons, a half dozen members of the Raging Grannies charmed their way past security — “we’re just going to our cars” — and took an elevator to Suite 1020 of the Bank of America building in midtown Raleigh.

They assembled outside the glass doors of the Enviva offices. The lights were off, the desks vacant. Soon an Enviva official opened the door, but blocked the entrance with his body.

“We’re here to deliver a letter,” the Grannies said.

Enviva purports to be a “sustainable” and “renewable” global energy company specializing in producing wood pellets for fuel. In truth, it cuts forests, including hardwoods, which releases carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into the air. The company then grinds the trees into pellets at its factories, four of them in eastern North Carolina, polluting nearby communities. The pellets are then then shipped by rail and then across the oceans — the transport of which releases more carbon dioxide — to Europe, Britain and Japan. And finally, those countries burn the pellets instead of coal, again emitting tons of carbon dioxide.

A red sign in the shape of an octagon that says Stop Enviva
Photo: Lisa Sorg

Ten floors below the Enviva offices, demonstrators had gathered on the sidewalk waving signs at the blur of traffic speeding down Six Forks Road. The wood pellet industry threatens not only the planet by contributing to climate change, but also the neighborhoods where the company sites its factories. In North Carolina that’s Ahoskie, Faison, Garysburg and Hamlet, where Enviva produces 2.5 million tons of pellets and hundreds of thousands of tons of air pollutants per year. All of these neighborhoods are predominantly low-income, nonwhite or both.

“Dust comes off the trucks, black smoke comes out of the exhaust,” said Debra David, who lives in Dobbins Heights, a small Black community near Enviva’s Hamlet factory. Hundreds of truck trips pass Dobbins Heights every day, all day and night, she said.

Enviva’s history in North Carolina is checkered with permit violations. The company underestimated its emissions of hazardous air pollutants, resulting in a settlement agreement with state regulators to install technology to reduce them. In 2021, state regulators fined Enviva’s Hamlet plant $10,000 for air quality violations. The Faison plant has accumulated six air quality violations since 2017. The Garysburg facility was cited earlier this year. (Enviva disputed the violation.)

A photo of Debra David, dressed in a red and pink flowered shirt. She is pointing her finger in protest against Enviva, the wood pellet company.
Debra David, who lives in Dobbin Heights, a Black community near Enviva’s plant in Hamlet. She suffers from asthma, made worse by pollution from Enviva, she said. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

“Our state is subsidizing Enviva” — roughly $10 million in taxpayer funds — said Emily Zucchino, campaign organizer with Dogwood Alliance, which organized the protest. “Nothing is being done, so we’re taking our concerns directly to Enviva. We want them to stop polluting. We want them to stop claiming they’re producing renewable energy. We want them to stop expanding in North Carolina.”

The letter the Raging Grannies delivered to Enviva laid out these concerns. “What’s your name?” the Grannies asked the company employee. “We’re non-violent, civil,” said Lib Hutchby, trying to reassure him.

He would not provide his name, but did accept the letter.

Down on the street level, several drivers honked their horns in support as the protest continued. “Enough is enough,” Zucchino said. “Give residents back their sleep. Give them back their dreams.”

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.