As the world warms, and as communities across the globe organize to address widespread environmental damage, the issue of environmental justice has gained new urgency. A toxic mix of politics, economics and racism means that the damage done by pollution often weighs most heavily on the world’s most vulnerable communities. Environmental justice efforts target the root causes of the damage, identify its disparate impacts, and chart paths to restoration.
Environmental justice is fueled by empowered communities that have the skills and knowledge to identify environmental risks, hold polluters accountable, and work with stakeholders to improve the health of residents and communities.
Charlotte’s Historic West End
Clean Air Carolina’s first effort to partner with a community in this actionable, contributory way began in Charlotte’s Historic West End, as part of our AirKeepers program. Residents of this historically African American community live with a longstanding legacy of industrial zoning and highway construction that continues to pollute the air in their neighborhoods.
This partnership, originally funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, began with an orientation session followed by helping Historic West End residents Ron Ross, Mattie Marshall and William Hughes (pictured right) install particle pollution monitors in their neighborhoods.
Two years of monitoring led to a report that documented the elevated pollution risks in the area, provided evidence for neighborhood concerns, and proposed solutions, including the creation of a Clean Air Corridor for the area.
Leaders from seven Historic West End neighborhoods then attended Clean Air Advocacy Training over four weeks designed to familiarize them with the findings, discuss priority issues for action, and sharpen their advocacy skills.
Residents are now meeting with elected officials to share their findings and advocate for actions that would contribute to the Clean Air Corridor.
Clean Air Carolina staff will continue working to support the Historic West End communities, as well as seeking to expand our efforts and our understanding of environmental justice work.
Wood Pellet Industry
Clean Air Carolina has filed a lawsuit against North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over the issuance of an air quality permit to Enviva Hamlet, a wood pellet manufacturing facility currently under construction in Richmond County. Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) are handling the case. The challenge focuses on emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted during all five stages of production. These air pollutants contribute to smog and can cause breathing issues for the elderly, young children, and those with lung diseases such as asthma. “Richmond County has one of the state’s poorest health rankings,” explained June Blotnick, Executive Director of Clean Air Carolina.
“Residents around the Enviva Hamlet facility deserve air pollution controls that protect the health of workers and the community.” The lawsuit argues that DEQ issued the permit to Enviva Hamlet despite the unrealistically low air pollution estimates that Enviva provided to DEQ during the permitting process. Clean Air Carolina, SELC, and EIP formally challenged those estimates in November, during public comments.
While DEQ did increase the requirements for testing the facility’s VOC emissions once it starts operating, the lawsuit argues that post construction testing does not satisfy the Clean Air Act’s preconstruction permitting program.