Community Groups Challenge Permit for Washington’s First Industrial Wood Pellet Fuel Plant

The permit vastly underestimates harmful air pollution from the plant that would cause health impacts to residents in nearby communities


Miranda Fox, Earthjustice,, (415) 283-2324

Kari Birdseye, Natural Resources Defense Council,, 415-875-8243

A coalition of Northwest and national conservation groups today filed an appeal to revoke a faulty air permit that would allow construction and operation of an industrial-scale wood pellet fuel plant in Hoquiam, Washington.

Friends of Grays Harbor, Grays Harbor Audubon, Twin Harbors Waterkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Wild Orca, represented by Earthjustice, are challenging the Clean Air Act permit for underestimating the amounts of toxic and harmful pollutants the plant will emit and for failing to consider the full harm of producing and burning wood pellets on our climate.

“It’s sadly not a new story: private speculators looking to make money by relying on an accounting trick that ignores greenhouse gas emissions and harms the community and environment along the way,” said Arthur (R.D.) Grunbaum, President, Friends of Grays Harbor.

Pacific Northwest Renewable Energy (PNWRE) has proposed one of the first industrial wood pellet manufacturing plants in the region. The Hoquiam plant would be located near the Gray Harbor National Refuge and just over a mile from Hoquiam High School, Hoquiam Middle School, residential areas, and local parks. PNWRE plans to produce and export more than 440,000 tons of fuel pellets annually to be shipped to Asia, operating the facility seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

While touted as “renewable,” wood pellet plants are a false energy solution that pose significant threats to public health, wildlife, and the environment. Harmful air pollutants linked to serious health issues like asthma are released at every stage of the fuel pellet production process: from logging trees to transporting the wood by trucks to the facility, converting the wood into fuel pellets, and shipping the pellets to overseas to be burned in retrofitted coal power plants.

“The company seeking to build this plant has vastly underestimated its air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and the regional air authority is failing to protect Washington residents by allowing this permit to sail through without a hard look at consequences,” said Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice Managing Attorney. “In no universe is burning wood a step forward for our climate.”

Although the wood pellet industry is new to the Pacific Northwest, it has already had a devastating impact in the southeastern United States over the last decade. Residents near these facilities are subjected to a near-constant stream of wood dust and other air pollutants, leading to significant respiratory issues. The facilities also have a history of repeated emissions violations and have increased logging to feed the production lines.

“This industry has a terrible track record of harming communities, forests, and the climate and so far, this proposed plant in Washington state is following the same disastrous playbook,” said Rita Vaughan Frost, Natural Resources Defense Council. “In addition to the air pollution, dust, and constant noise and truck traffic, there’re not enough wood chips and slash piles around Grays Harbor to keep the plant running 24/7 — the history of these plants in the southeast shows that they increase logging and forest destruction.”

While PNWRE is the first company to receive an air permit to construct and operate an industrial wood pellet plant in Washington, a similar facility on the Columbia River in Longview, Washington, has been proposed by Drax, a company with several industrial wood pellet plants already operating southeast U.S. and proposals for more in California.

“The increase in deforestation that these facilities will prompt could devastate the rain-fed waterways of this region, causing further harm to water availability, water quality, and salmon habitat,” said Lee First, Twin Harbors Waterkeeper.

“It’s time to protect the web of life: from biofilm to sandpipers to salmon to orca whales,” said Deborah Giles, Science and Research Director, Wild Orca.

The appeal challenges the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency issuance last month of a Final Determination and Approval Order for failing to correctly calculate the air pollution that would be emitted from the facility; the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board will review the validity of the permit.

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