Wood Pellet Production in the U.S. South and Exportation for ‘Renewable’ Energy in Europe


Wood pellets
carbon neutrality
carbon sequestration
natural forests
monooculture plantations
climate change
greenhouse gases
environmental justice
the american south
international trade
paris agreement
international environmental law
Enviva Wood
carbon accounting rules

How to Cite

Shumway, E. . (2023). Wood Pellet Production in the U.S. South and Exportation for ‘Renewable’ Energy in Europe: The New Green Sacrifice Zone. Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 48(2), 48. https://doi.org/10.52214/cjel.v48i2.11735


In recent years, European demand for wood pellets has surged due to a misconception of carbon neutrality. The current legal frameworks posit that simply replacing a harvested tree renders the burning of wood pellets for energy use renewable energy. This oversimplification does not consider a number of factors, including the difference in carbon sequestration capabilities between original, natural forests and replacement monoculture plantations, the cumulative impact of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, and the years required for a replacement tree to sequester as much carbon as the harvested tree. The EU and U.K. can currently utilize emissions “reductions” due to burning wood pellets to reach domestic renewable energy goals along with commitments under the Paris Agreement. The corresponding increase in demand for wood pellets in Europe has resulted in a hotspot of wood pellet production in the U.S. South with several significant consequences. This Note presents the environmental justice and climate change impacts of the growing wood pellet industry in historically marginalized communities in the U.S. South, with a close look at the Enviva wood pellet plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. It provides an overview of the inadequacies of U.S., EU, U.K., and international environmental law in protecting both the global climate and local communities from the impacts of wood pellet production and combustion. This Note then builds on calls to change IPCC and EU carbon accounting rules for wood harvested for energy use to propose a solution to the environmental justice side of the wood pellet dilemma in international environmental law: namely, adding environmental justice safeguards to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2023 Emma Shumway