What do people think about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the wood pellet industry? An exploratory study of residents living near pellet plants vs. urban residents in states with pellet manufacturers

Main Article Content

Mason T. LeBlanc
Richard P. Vlosky https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0126-0907

Keywords

pellets, resident perceptions, urban, rural

Abstract

This research provides insight into the wood pellet manufacturing industry from residents’ perspectives in the US South, focusing on environmental, social, and economic constructs. The region is the world’s largest producer and exporter of wood pellets. We sought to investigate in-depth socio-economic dynamics and fill a gap in knowledge of the human dimension relationships between the wood pellet industry and public supply-side issues in the US South. Two rounds of a web-based survey were sent to 7,500 residents in the two pellet-producing sub-regions within the US South: the Gulf Coast (Louisiana and Mississippi) and the Atlantic Coast (South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia). Within these regions, surveys were sent to randomly selected residents, by zip code, 18 years or older, who live within a 50-mile radius of selected pellet mills (rural) or in the two largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) (urban) within each state containing a pellet mill. Compared to urban respondents, rural/proximal respondents within the 50-mile radius of pellet manufacturers were more aware of the existence of the wood pellet industry and had an overall more positive of the sector. Overall, urban-area respondents have a greater affinity for the environment and were generally more concerned with humans producing negative impacts on the environment. However, specific to the pellet sector, rural/proximal respondents think that the wood pellet sector is more effective in protecting the environment. Regarding social behaviors and perceptions, relative to urban respondents, rural/proximal respondents felt that the pellet industry is a superior sector in supporting communities, is concerned about the needs of communities, creates quality jobs, and is a good industry to work for. Results for the last construct, economic perceptions, show that urban respondents strongly believe that their community has a strong economy relative to rural/proximal respondents. This suggests that new sectors, such as the pellet industry can provide much needed economic development in rural geographic areas.

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