Here’s to the land of the longleaf pine…
So begins the official toast of the Old North State. Our relationship with the verdant forests which cover these coastal, mountain and piedmont landscapes goes back centuries—from their early practical uses for naval stores and turpentine, to the current research into the delicate biology of our unique ecosystem, one of the most ecologically diverse to be found anywhere on this planet. We always have loved and benefited from our forests. But now they face a threat even more immediate than global warming, one which threatens to leave our summer land barren, our wildlife homeless, and our great state stripped of the resource defining it more than any other.
Before the end of 2016, multinational corporation Enviva plans to begin use of the two giant glistening white domes recently built at the state port in Wilmington to begin exporting wood pellets overseas to power plants in Europe, specifically England and France. These pellets would be burned as “biomass,” an energy source supposedly more renewable and cleaner than coal.
“By using wood pellets as fuel instead of coal, utilities can reduce the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions of power generation by 80 percent,” said Enviva spokesman Kevin Jenkins in a recent article published by Star News.
This all sounds appealing (who wouldn’t want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?). Well, until we consider the hidden total of all environmental costs associated with the process. First, trees would be cut down (the same trees which are already doing a marvelous and free job of filtering our atmosphere of greenhouse gases like carbon) from forests throughout the southeast, including North Carolina. The trees would then take several rides in large, diesel-burning trucks, from the forests from which they were cut to the plant to be milled, then finally to the port to be shipped. At our port in Wilmington and one in Morehead City, the pellets would subsequently be loaded into the hold of a ship to be ferried across the Atlantic Ocean—a ship in which fuel economy is discussed in terms of gallons per mile, rather than miles per gallon. Finally, they will arrive at their destination across the pond to be loaded into incinerating power plants at a rate less efficient than coal. What does this all mean? More trees would be required to produce the same amount of power. And then they are burned. The process releases the formerly carbon-trapping tree back into the atmosphere as … yep, you guessed it! Carbon.
Time for another grievance, one even more relevant to us locally. It would be one thing if Enviva obeyed the guidelines they advertised, in which they claim to use only sawdust waste and scrap wood leftover from the milling process to produce pellets. But such has been proven not to be the case. The Dogwood Alliance, a NC nonprofit organization based in Asheville, has followed the lumber trucks and taken pictures of clear-cutting and harvesting done, not from scrap wood or even the more sustainable “tree farms” of quick-growing pine, but from bottomland hardwood forests, “critical habitat for up to 25 different species federally listed as imperiled or endangered.” (National Resources Defense Council). Is keeping the lights on across the ocean a good enough reason to destroy rare hardwood habitat?
The worst part: We, the taxpayers, are paying for the privilege of being plundered. Just up the road in Sampson County, residents are voicing concerns about the recently constructed Enviva pellet plant and what it means for surrounding forests. Some have already been clear cut; the once-arboreal land looks like it was flattened by a tornado. The decision, as it often is, initially was an economic one. Enviva is slated to pay $4.4 million in taxes over the next 10 years in Sampson County. However, they receive an immediate $2.2 million subsidy from the county, and the remainder $2.2 million isn’t much to repair roads which have been damaged by heavy use from logging trucks.
That doesn’t bring into account the drop in quality of life of county residents, as heard in noise pollution from the construction and highway traffic, to atmospheric pollutants in the dirt and dust from grinding up trees all day long. In the end, it’s devastation wreaked on the local forest ecosystem. Yes, much of the forests Enviva is pulling from are on private property, and have been sold by private landowners; property rights in this country are as ancient and sacred as our beloved freedoms of speech and religion. But we must ask ourselves: At what point do the needs of the greater good (a clean, beautiful and quiet place to live) outweigh the pursuit of profit for the few?
The trees are falling now and in our own backyards. We see the proof in our port, our city, our state; ultimately, it’s our forests at risk. When the wool is pulled back, Enviva’s assuaging marketing spin words of “providing jobs” and “eco-friendly” mean nothing at all. It’s happened before. The analogy to Titan is an easy one, so I’ll go ahead and make it. Also, we stopped them.
Wilmington is our home, and we must fight for it. The land I love is covered with quiet forests and trickling waters. In summertime, the call of the cicadas in our forest fills the warm humid air, perfumed by the scuppernong on the night breeze. Citizens must call their congressmen.