UK government finances environmental racism despite settlements
Drax Biomass was accused of violating regulations and paying out US regulators, however, the UK continues to provide the energy company with providing £2 million per day in subsidies as it is predicted to generate 6% of the UK's electricity.
The UK government has been accused of enabling environmental racism by providing £2 million ($2.15 million) per day in subsidies to Drax Biomass, an energy company that has paid millions to US regulators over allegations that it violated chemical emission restrictions at wood chip plants near black and low-income communities.
Drax was accused of violating regulations governing the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a category of air pollutants associated with cancer, respiratory issues, and other negative health impacts.
Katherine Egland, a director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative unit, said “My message to the UK government is that you are subsidizing environmental racism,” and invited the UK government to “come to the US and go to some of these communities where these plants are operating. It is not a safe environment. It is very harmful to these communities.”
It is worth noting that Drax operates three hydroelectric sites in Scotland. However, its largest operation in Europe is a wood-fired power station located in Selby, North Yorkshire. These large-scale operations in Europe make it possible for Drax to describe itself as the UK’s “largest source of renewable energy.”
👥 Independent analysis by @OxfordEconomics has shown that last year Drax contributed £1.8 billion towards the UK #economy and supported 17,800 #jobs across the UK. 🇬🇧 Drax CEO @ddwg said of the findings. 💬⬇️ pic.twitter.com/luu6voLUF0— Drax (@DraxGroup) September 25, 2022
Drax maintains a sizable North American supply chain, with 13 sites in the US and Canada generating 1.5 million tonnes of compressed wood pellets annually, to power its operations and take advantage of the growing worldwide demand for biomass fuel.
According to records uncovered by Unearthed, Drax and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) reached an agreement late last month to resolve accusations, pertaining to Drax’s exceeding the emissions limits for VOCs, methanol, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde, made against two of the company's wood pellet factories there. Each settlement was for $1.6 million.
BREAKING: Drax has been accused of driving “environmental racism” after a new @UE investigation revealed that the power company has agreed a $3.2m settlement over toxic emissions in the US Deep Southhttps://t.co/ohDalJWSPN— Unearthed (@UE) September 26, 2022
After agreeing to the settlements without accepting liability, Drax maintains that it did not violate any laws at its Louisiana sites. However, last year similar charges have been brought against the company revealing that it was fined $2.5 million for air pollution infractions in Gloster, near black communities with high rates of poverty, in the state of Mississippi.
Despite rising skepticism among scientists that woody biomass can be categorized as a source of green energy, Drax continues to enjoy substantial backing from the government with its wood-fired power station forecasted to supply 6% of the UK's total electricity supply.
According to research by the climate thinktank Ember, Drax got £893 million ($958 million) in green energy subsidies from the UK government in 2021 or roughly £2.4 million ($2.5 million) per day.
Drax's settlements with respect to pollution allegations have increased scrutiny of its UK taxpayer subsidies.
Egland, who chairs the NAACP’s environmental and climate justice committee said that “It’s subsidizing environmental racism, plain and simple. There are no two ways about it,” adding that “I want the UK to know there are human rights atrocities associated with the wood pellet trade in the US. And the UK is complicit.”
In response to these allegations, a government spokesperson said “The UK government recognizes that it is vital to ensure any negative impacts on the environment, including on air quality, from the use of biomass are fully understood and mitigated,” stressing that “We only support biomass which complies with our strict sustainability criteria, and with carbon capture and storage, it can permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
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