A UK-owned facility in the United States that supplies wood pellets for green British electricity has been fined $2.5 million for air pollution violations.
Drax Amite pellets wood from local forests in Mississippi, transports it to the UK, and burns it for renewable energy at a company facility in Yorkshire.
Since 2017, fines have been imposed by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for violations of restrictions on volatile organic compounds that can exacerbate respiratory diseases.
It is considered the biggest fine for wood pellet facilities.
The fine has been welcomed by local environmental activists who have raised concerns about the impact of the UK biomass industry on regional forests and air quality in the southern United States, which they say is particularly affecting low-income communities.
We have the right to breathe clean air, said Kathy Egland of the National Association for the Development of Colors.
Drax has also been ordered to install equipment to capture VOC emissions from drying and milling.
The UK is one of the world’s largest consumers of biomass, accounting for 12% of the electricity mix.
Amid the push to get away from coal, the government is currently providing the largest subsidy in Europe, and it provides 1 billion in support to the industry every year.
Most of it goes to Drax, which so far has converted 4 of the 6 coal units in Yorkshire to burn biomass.
The company ships most of its wood pellets from the southern United States, accounting for nearly 60% of the region’s demand.
A Drax spokesman said the company has monitored emissions, notified MDEQ of violations and will complete installation of equipment to reduce pollution by July.
The safety of the people and communities in which we operate is our top priority. We take our environmental responsibility seriously and are committed to complying with all local and federal regulations.
Fines arise from growing anxiety about the practice of burning biomass for electricity, which is classified as renewable under EU and UK regulations on the basis that carbon dioxide emissions from burning waste wood are offset by new wood.
A recent letter from 500 scientists to US President Joe Biden and EU and Japanese leaders called for abandonment of subsidies and an end to the classification of biomass as carbon neutral.
Scientists claim that increasing demand for biomass results in significant carbon losses due to large-scale tree felling that cannot be replaced quickly enough to avoid dangerous climate change.
It’s relieved to see Drax take responsibility for air pollution in Mississippi, but these fines reduce the bucket, says Sasha Stashwick, compared to the UK government handing the company $2 million a day in the form of biomass subsidies. The Cut Carbon Not Forests campaign, a coalition of American and British NGOs.
Drax recently agreed to a 436m contract to acquire Canadian Pinnacle Renewable Energy to boost supply, but it was revealed this week that some plants are using current gas to dry wood pellets, undermining their renewable qualifications.
Local activists in Latvia and Estonia have raised concerns about the damage to ancient forests as the demand for biomass has caused damage to ancient forests.
Drax follows the highest biomass sustainability standards in the world.
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