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US campaigners call on UK public for support over alleged impact of Drax plant

US campaigners call on UK public for support over alleged impact of Drax plant

Campaigners in Mississippi have called on the British public for support amid claims that community members are suffering health issues after a nearby Drax-owned wood pellet plant breached pollution rules.

Krystal Martin, a resident of Gloster in the south-eastern US state, said the detrimental impact to the community caused by the nearby plant “should not be allowed”.

In a tearful video shared by campaign groups, Ms Martin said her mother has been suffering from asthma while others in the town are dealing with similar health issues.

“It’s really hurtful … to know that my mom can’t enjoy life the way she used to in the way she used to like a year ago or maybe two years ago,” she said. “Knowing that she has to go back and forth from the doctor is heartbreaking.”

The Drax Amite plant in Gloster converts trees from the southern states into wood pellets which are then shipped to the UK for use at the firm’s power station near Selby, North Yorkshire.

It was fined 2.5 million US dollars (£1.9 million) in 2020 for beaching air protection rules over the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), exposure to which can cause a variety of health issues.

Residents from Gloster – and other US communities near wood pellet plants – have long been campaigning against the alleged environmental and health impacts, calling on the UK Government to end biomass subsidies that help to support the industry.

Ms Martin, who runs a local education non-profit, said it is not known if the health issues are directly linked to pollution from the plant but cited consensus that VOCs can cause or worsen various conditions.

She added: “I’d like people to know that we are dealing with real issues in a really small under-served rural community. We don’t want to go unnoticed, we’ve been unnoticed for a long time.”

Ms Martin said the community would like Drax to be transparent about what is going on and how they plan to fix the impact.

“Are we saying that it’s OK for a company to come from the UK into the United States and then come into the state of Mississippi into a rural, majority black community that is an under-served rural community?” she added.

Meanwhile, Katherine Egland, an environmental campaigner from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who lives in Gulfport, Mississippi, said: “Drax is coming in to poor black communities in the US and polluting them.

“They have been faced with monetary penalties and Britain is subsidising this,” she told the videos from Biofuelwatch, Dogwood Alliance, National Resource Defence Council and Stand.earth.

“I’d certainly like to appeal not only to the British Government, but the people of the United Kingdom to help us,” she added.

“It’s very important that everyone works together and that we speak up, speak out against these injustices because they are hurting communities in the US.”

Drax has disputed claims that its operations are having adverse impacts on communities, saying it is committed to being a good neighbour and that its investment in Mississippi supports hundreds of jobs.

It comes as a UK Government consultation on proposing new subsidies for Drax and Lynemouth power stations is closed on Thursday.

Both receive money funded by energy bill payers because the electricity produced from burning wood pellets is classified as renewable.

In theory, burning wood pellets should create carbon-neutral energy because the trees and other plants burnt first absorb carbon, then are burnt and release the same carbon back into the atmosphere.

But critics say this assumes that the companies only use sustainable wood in their boilers.

Investigations by the BBC and others alleged that Drax uses wood from environmentally important forests.

Angela Francis, WWF’s director of policy solutions, said: “It is a disgrace that Drax receives £6 billion of green subsidies for burning precious old growth forests that are actually adding to global carbon emissions.

“Forests play a critical role in storing carbon and alleviating the impacts of climate change and we have called for the UK Government to end its subsidy for bioenergy carbon capture and storage which is an unproven technology.”

Drax said it is “confident our biomass is sustainable and legally harvested”.

A spokesperson for the company said: “Drax’s priority is the safety of our people and the communities in which we operate.

“We take our environmental responsibilities seriously and we are committed to complying with all local and federal regulations.

“Our investment in Mississippi supports hundreds of jobs in forestry, logging, and trucking, in addition to the jobs already created at our Mississippi pellet mill in Gloster,” they said.

“We’re also boosting Mississippi’s economy by focusing on jobs, skills, and education,” they said.

They spokesperson said the company uses internal and external audits to improve their environmental management systems and they have created more than 60 permanent jobs at the Gloster plant.

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “Biomass plays a key role in delivering a more secure, clean energy sector.

“Our consultation is seeking views on supporting large-scale biomass generation to bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. No decisions have yet been taken.”