Meet the Environmental Justice Organizers Fighting a Corporate Giant in North Carolina

by Emily Zucchino

July 13, 2017

Lifelong residents of a small southern county have just one message for the corporation threatening to pollute their air and water: “we do matter.”

Kim McCall, Secretary, Concerned Citizens of Richmond County

Kim McCall is the secretary of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, a group fighting big business and pollution in rural North Carolina.

Nestled in the Carolina Sandhills, a region that is known for it’s sandy soils and unique forest habitat, is Richmond County, North Carolina. This small county of 46,000 people is the type of place where neighbors know each other, community BBQ’s are the norm, and families like those of Kim McCall and Debra David have lived for generations.

Richmond County is also a place where pollution, environmental destruction and injustice occur with maddening frequency. In 2016, it ranked 90 out of 100 counties in North Carolina for health outcomes. 

The newest threat to a clean and healthy environment in Richmond County is an Enviva wood pellet facility. The world’s largest producer of wood pellets, Enviva wants to build a 500,000-ton-per-year wood pellet facility just a few miles from Dobbins Heights, a primarily African American community. The wood pellet industry may market itself as clean and green, but the truth is that the wood pellet export market that has taken off in the past three or four years is just another polluting, land degrading industry.

“I don’t like the whole idea of big business as usual coming in and polluting a community.”

Kim McCall, Secretary, Concerned Citizens of Richmond County

No one should have to face a plant like Enviva’s. Concerned citizens fear the facility will be an additional burden to their community, which is already suffering from multiple extractive industries, pollution, and economic hardship.

Residents living near another one of Enviva’s North Carolina mills have documented that the facility has increased harmful particulate matter in the air of the local community 75 percent over pre-operation levels.

“Our community is already dealing with a lot problems, and Enviva is only going to make it worse.”

Debra David, Concerned Citizens of Richmond County  

Yet the state Department of Environmental Quality issued permits to Enviva that contained false information regarding the plant’s location, violated air quality regulations, and they never held a public hearing, meaning citizens were wrongfully denied a voice in the decision.

In the face of environmental injustice and corporate bullying, he Concerned Citizens of Richmond County are mobilizing to protect their community and their local environment.

“We have to fight this for our children. We have to fight this for the future. We have to fight this to save our health.”

Pastor Cary Rodgers, Organizer, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League

Stop Enviva in Richmond County

The group has collected hundreds of petition signatures from community members calling on North Carolina  Governor Roy Cooper and his Department of Environmental Quality to stop the Enviva wood pellet facility, and the group recently partnered with the Southern Environmental Law Center to file a lawsuit challenging DEQ’s approval of Enviva’s flawed air quality permit.

This small community is going up against a giant in the energy industry, but just like many before them in the grassroots environmental justice movement they are not giving up.

It’s about time somebody just stood up and did something and made these companies aware of the fact that they can’t just do what what they want to do, and that we do matter.

Kim McCall, Concerned Citizens of Richmond County

Concerned Citizens of Richmond County

If Richmond County is successful in stopping this plant, they will protect their community from additional pollution, protect our forests and wildlife from the needless destruction of nearly 10,000 acres a year, and will protect our climate from excessive amounts of carbon being dumped into our atmosphere.

You can join the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County by adding your voice to the thousands of other who are calling on Governor Cooper and the Department of Environmental Quality to do the right thing and oppose this plant. Sign their petition today!

By Emily Zucchino

Emily Zucchino is the Community Network Manager for Dogwood Alliance. She works with and supports communities across the South who are working to protect their local forests. Emily is an avid hiker and traveler and had explored trails in locations ranging from the Appalachians to the Himalayas to the Amazon.

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