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Although wood pellet biomass corporations frame their recent rapid growth as a victory for “green energy”, troubling evidence of their adverse impacts on climate and environmental justice calls for rigorous investigation of these claims. Contextualizing biomass within the envirotechnical regimes that have created industrial ‘sacrifice zones’ in BIPOC low-income communities in the US South, this paper recharacterizes it as an innovation within oppressive regimes. It further critiques carbon accounting frameworks that designate biomass as renewable despite its greater emissions per capita than coal and carbon debts created by deforestation that could take centuries to rectify. Biomass pellet production plants, cited disproportionately in environmental justice communities, also emit serious and often under-reported amounts of pollutants including PM 2.5, VOCs, and HAPs, linked to higher rates of chronic illness and premature death in impacted communities. The current regulatory paradigm guarantees neither distributive nor procedural justice. Ethnographic research including participant-observation, interviews, and site visits revealed that community members felt that regulatory bodies serve corporations above vulnerable citizens, that their voices were not valued in public hearings or by elected officials, and that the pollution, dishonesty, and ecological harms plants bring far outweighs their meagre economic benefits. Communities enact robust resistance to biomass as both a global climate threat and a local injustice. This paper traces how coalitions connecting intersectional grassroots activist networks to larger advocacy organizations are achieving victories on the ground and in the court of public opinion, and the lessons this synergy holds for the endeavor of a truly just transition.
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