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Wood pellet plant approval delayed amid concerns about impact on environment, communities of color

(Photo: WFAE)
(File photo: Enviva wood pellet plant)

State officials have delayed approving an expansion for a wood pellet plant in northeastern North Carolina while they consider concerns about how the plant affects the environment and nearby communities of color.

The state Department of Environmental Quality was supposed to decide two weeks ago whether to issue an air quality permit for the pellet plant in Ahoskie operated by Maryland-based Enviva.

The DEQ says officials are taking extra time to consider concerns raised at a mid-November meeting of the state Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board.

The plant is among four Enviva plants in the state that turn local trees into wood pellets that are shipped to Europe to be burned for electricity.

Speakers at the meeting said dust and other pollutants, noise and traffic disproportionately affect low-income residents of color.

The permit would allow the Ahoskie plant to expand production by 31 percent.

In a statement, Enviva says the permit would require it to install new equipment to handle dust and other emissions. The DEQ says it has no timeline for issuing the permit.

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including DavidsonNews.net and The Charlotte Observer.