Business Booming in America’s Forests. Some Aren’t Happy About It.

"The fuel pellet industry is thriving. Supporters see it as a climate-friendly source of rural jobs. For others, it’s a polluter and destroyer of nature."

"GARYSBURG, N.C. — In 2013, Kathy Claiborne got a noisy new neighbor. That’s when a huge factory that dries and presses wood into roughly cigarette-filter-sized pellets roared to life near her tidy home in one of the state’s poorest counties. On a recent afternoon in her front yard, near the end of a cul-de-sac, the mill rumbled like an uncomfortably close jet engine.

“I can’t even recall the last time I had a good night’s sleep,” said Ms. Claiborne, who in 2009 moved to the neighborhood, which is majority African-American. She wears a mask outdoors, she said, because dust from the plant can make it hard to breathe.

The slumberless factory’s output is trucked to a port in Chesapeake, Va., and loaded on ships bound for Europe, where it will be burned to produce electricity and heat for millions of people. It’s part of a fast-growing industry that, depending on whom you ask, is an unwelcome source of pollution or a much-needed creator of rural jobs; a forest protector, or a destroyer.

In barely a decade, the Southeast’s wood pellet industry has grown from almost nothing to 23 mills with capacity to produce more than 10 million metric tons annually for export. It employs more than 1,000 people directly, and has boosted local logging and trucking businesses."

Gabriel Popkin reports for the New York Times with photographs and video by Erin Schaff April 19, 2021.

Source: NYTimes, 04/20/2021