PRE Springfield Biomass Plant Permit | Conservation Law Foundation

Palmer Renewable Energy gets back their biomass plant building permit

Jenny Rushlow

CLF has been working in partnership with Michaelann Bewsee and the community-based organization she leads in Springfield, MA – Arise for Social Justice – for the last several years. Michaelann, Arise, and a group of activists who have organized under the name Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield are fighting a biomass power plant that Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE) proposes to build in their community. The air pollution from this proposed plant would harm the health of Springfield residents – who already suffer from rates of childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions at much higher rates than other parts of the state.

In the guest blog post below, Michaelann describes the legal challenge that she and other residents of Springfield, as well as the Springfield City Council, have been involved in regarding the validity of PRE’s building permits for the plant. CLF, in partnership with Michaelann, Arise for Social Justice, Toxics Action Center, and several other community partners, is challenging the validity of an air permit issued to PRE from the MA Department of Environmental Protection. Michaelann shares the latest development in the building permit dispute below.

Funny how bad news can make you want to fight even harder for justice.

rsz_arise_sunflower_pictureRemember the community’s fight to keep a biomass plant out of Springfield? Yesterday we found out that the Land Court granted Palmer Renewable Energy’s request to reinstate their building permit, undoing the Springfield Zoning Board’s decision that the building permit was invalid. That means that PRE gets its building permit back unless we and/or the City of Springfield can find a way to stop them.

How can we stop them? Stay tuned for more on that, but if you know Arise, and the coalition we formed, Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, then you should know by now that we don’t give up.

I’m still sorting out the legalities of the decision, but as I’m understanding it right now, the Court held that seeing as the City of Springfield didn’t require a special permit for other kinds of waste incineration, why start now? And the Court held that green wood chips are not waste, even though those wood chips will come from waste wood! Therefore, PRE’s Building Permit should be restored.

PRE’s intentions are to produce 38 MG of energy by burning waste wood. Some of you may remember that originally, PRE wanted to burn construction and demolition debris to produce energy, which would be very inexpensive for them, but the community uproar was so loud that the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) put a moratorium on all permits to burn construction and debris. That’s when PRE decided to burn waste wood instead. But of course waste wood still comes from trees—PRE has chosen to use the word “renewable” in its company’s name, but trees are not renewable in any time frame that makes sense when you consider the importance of trees capturing the carbon that is altering the climate of our planet.

With nearly one out of five kids in Springfield living (or dying) with asthma, we have come to the conclusion that burning anything to produce energy is a step in the wrong direction.

It’s an admitted fact that PRE’s incinerator will produce 13.2 TONS of gaseous Hazardous Air Pollutants and 13.4 TONS of gaseous ammonia—and yet, those amounts are within what DEP considers allowable to receive an air permit. We’re working with the Conservation Law Foundation to appeal the issuance of the air permit.

We’re also working with Alternatives for Communities and Environment to get Governor Patrick to issue an executive order on environmental justice that would be applicable to all state agencies, including DEP, MassDOT, and the Energy Facility Siting Board, agencies that make decisions daily that put communities like Springfield at risk of unnecessary exposure to environmental and public health threats.

Last but far from least, we’re organizing to get the City of Springfield to adopt a Climate Change Plan for our city. I think we in New England have been a little protected from the changes hitting some parts of our country—the flooding, the drought, the forest fires—but we won’t stay protected forever. There’s so much we can do to improve the environment in Springfield, to produce jobs, to lower energy costs for Springfield, to clean up our air—in other words, to get with the 21st century, which the other major cities in Massachusetts are already doing.

We’re taking a bus to New York City on September 21 to contribute to the People’s Climate March, and we don’t intend to have a single empty seat on the bus.

So back to Palmer Renewable Energy. The Land Court decision was not the one we expected or wanted to hear. But we have a number of tools in our toolbox. Stay tuned—and get in touch if you want to be part of the movement to protect our health and our environment!


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