Environmental Justice

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“The days of polluters being rubber-stamped in communities like ours are over.” Jesse Lederman, Springfield, Mass., City Councilor

This is not about Arkansas. Massachusetts’ dedicated activists last Friday stopped a 42-megawatt biomass power plant to protect minorities living in an area with high air pollution. The power plant was approved in 2008, but construction was delayed due to years of appeals and new pollution permits.

Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality (ADEQ)

Last Friday, a request was filed with the Arkansas Commission of Pollution Control and Ecology opposing the Arkansas BioEnergy permits granted by ADEQ. The purpose of the request is to avoid more than 30,000 minority deaths from communities living near Leola, Russellville, and Bearden.

Obsolete ADEQ regulations are written to help foreign companies looking for pollution sites and fail to reflect the threats to public health of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the last quarter of 2020, Arkansas BioEnergy was granted three permits to build and operate wood pellet mills adjacent to existing sawmills. People in the path of fine particulate matter pollution will be living in sacrifice zones, even more deadly for as long as the airborne coronavirus soars in the wind. Unless someone cares an awful lot.

Sacrifice zones are “fenceline communities” of low-income and people of color or where residents live immediately adjacent to heavily polluting industries.

This is an uphill battle, ADEQ does not like to revoke permits and the opportunities for public participation are long gone. What do you do when all seems lost? You look for another way and try something new!

Environmental Justice

“Environmental Justice” is more than a new phrase, it is a tool of the Environmental Protection Agency. EJ demands that state agencies regulating the environment take into account the pollution impacts on minority communities. The ADEQ’s disregard of equal protection constitutes environmental racism.

Environmental Racism

ADEQ uses the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sunday edition to hide a Public Notice only posted one day in the Classified ads. But in January 2020, ADG went digital with limited distribution. Single copies of the ADG Sunday edition are no longer sold at gas stations. ADEQ pretends everyone in Arkansas has access to the Sunday paper to meet the one-day notification requirement. My zip code is not eligible for the $408 yearly ADG subscription fee.

Truth be told, public comments are seen by ADEQ as “burdensome opinions” of ignorant zealot activists who don’t know the DEQ Regulations!

In the Bearden permit approval, ADEQ says while the Arkansas BioEnergy Bearden facility is adjacent to the Anthony Timberlands sawmill, the department has determined the two facilities are not under “common control” as referenced in Regulation 26, Chapter 2 and Regulation 19.903 (D). Therefore, the facilities are considered as separate stationary sources of pollution for the Title V and NSR permitting programs.

The “common control” argument is plain silly. The reason to build pellet mills adjacent to sawmills is to use sawdust as feedstock for wood pellets. If the sawmill shuts down for two months, the pellet mill would be down at the same time.

ADEQ is in violation of EPA Environmental Justice by giving sawmill and pellet mill corporations approval to endanger 30,000 poor and minority Arkansans breathing 4 tons of 2.5 micron particulate matter per year at each site.

The end of biomass

On April 2, 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection revoked the 2008 permit based on a “heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution.

“For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out-of-town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities.”

Laura Haight, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity declared “a huge victory for environmental justice – hopefully, this will be the final nail in the coffin for this zombie plant.”

The Massachusetts community stopped the biomass power plant. Let’s celebrate by stopping Drax in Arkansas.

Dr. Luis Contreras

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