A British power company owns the wood pellet mills who have caused air pollution.

The company that runs Britain’s biggest power station has agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle air pollution claims against two of its wood pellet mills in northeast Louisiana. Each worth $1.6 million, the two settlements amount to the largest paid to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in at least 10 years, an agency spokesman said on Monday. According to legal filings, England-based power company Drax broke several air quality rules at mills in the small communities of Bastrop and Urania. The mills produce pellets that are burned at a power plant in north-central England.  The settlements may be unusually large for DEQ, but they’re a drop in the bucket for for Drax, said Patrick Anderson, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. The company reported record profits of $226 million for the first half of 2022.  “While these fines may not hurt Drax’s bottom line, and the facilities continue to pollute, the sums represent some of the largest settlements levied by Louisiana against environmental violators in the state in decades,” Anderson said. “The magnitude of these penalties show that the industry poses serious risks to communities across the southeastern U.S.”

These mills have a history of air pollution that spans years.

Environmental groups have for years accused Drax’s mills of emitting hundreds of tons of volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, per year in violation of the company’s Clean Air Act permits. VOCs are a collection of chemicals that cause ground-level smog that can be harmful to breathe, especially for elderly people, children and sufferers of asthma and other lung conditions. The chemicals are released at the mills when trees are dried in kilns and then processed into pellets. Similar complaints were lodged against a Drax mill in Gloster, Mississippi, spurring enforcement action that led to a $2.5 million fine last year from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. According to the Environmental Integrity Project, Drax’s Morehouse Bioenergy mill in Bastrop was permitted to emit less than 250 tons of VOCs but actually released more than 1,100 tons per year. Bastrop is a majority-Black town of about 9,000 people. More than 40% of residents live under the poverty line.

This is a no-fault settlement so the company admits no wrong.

In the settlements, Drax denies it committed violations and makes no admission of wrongdoing. Such no-fault settlements are a common tactic for DEQ, which often aims to avoid costly and lengthy legal entanglements with large companies that violate environmental laws. “The safety of our people and residents of the communities in which we operate remains our top priority and we take our environmental responsibilities extremely seriously,” a Drax spokesperson said Monday. “We have worked with the LDEQ and invested in our pellet plants to ensure they comply with their environmental permits.” The company says recent equipment upgrades at the Bastrop, LaSalle and Gloster mills should reduce VOC emissions.

The pellets are make from low grade lumber, usually White Pine then shipped to England.

Drax produces pellets with low-grade timber, usually white pine, from forests in the South. The pellets are transported to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, stored in large domes and then shipped to a former coal plant in North Yorkshire, England. Demand for wood pellets shot up after European regulators classified emissions from wood-fired plants as a greener alternative to coal- and gas-powered generators. That made Drax eligible for large clean energy subsidies in what the Environmental Integrity Project calls a misguided bid to reduce carbon emissions. Many climate scientists say cutting down, shipping and burning trees for energy is worsening climate change. Drax has also received financial support from Louisiana. In 2012, the state offered Drax an incentive package that included a $1.7 million economic development loan for building the mill in Bastrop.

They may cause air pollution and deforestation but they provide jobs.

While the industry’s growth has led to accusations of deforestation and air pollution, it has also meant jobs in a region that sorely needs them. Northeast Louisiana’s timber-dependent economy slowed after lumber and paper mills began closing more than a decade ago. According to Drax, its relatively new mill operations support about 1,200 jobs and contribute $175 million per year to the economies of Louisiana and Mississippi. Two new plants that will use wood pellets are planned in Louisiana. Arbor Renewable Gas is set to build a plant in West Baton Rouge and Origin Materials announced plans to put a facility in Geismar. 

The usual trade off – jobs for pollution. If I need a job I am willing to do that but when does the common good apply?

Suit against wood pellet mill to be paid by Brit company
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