Springfield Biomass Power Plant Opponents Decry Flawed Air Permit Decision

Ben Carmichael

MA DEP Ignores Air Pollution Impacts on Local Communities

Reversing Decision on Standing, DEP Finds “Ten Citizens” Group Has Right to Appeal, but Creates Burdensome Rules for Future Cases

CONTACT:
Karen Wood
Conservation Law Foundation
(617) 850-1722,
kwood@clf.org

BOSTON AND SPRINGFIELD, MA  September 12, 2012 — Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Arise for Social Justice and Toxics Action Center (TAC) today issued the following statements regarding the September 11, 2012 “Final Decision” from Massachusetts Department of Environmental (DEP) Protection Commissioner Ken Kimmell in the groups’ appeal of a DEP air permit for the Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE) biomass power plant project in Springfield. The organizations, who, together with a group of 16 local residents, have long opposed the plant for adding air pollution to a community with childhood asthma rates already double the state average, decried the decision and vowed to hold DEP accountable.

“While we are pleased that DEP Commissioner Kimmell’s decision agrees with us that the public has a right to participate in air permitting decisions including this one, public participation is rendered meaningless if it falls on deaf ears,” said Michaelann Bewsee, Executive Director at Arise for Social Justice. “Here, DEP’s decision to uphold the PRE biomass plant air permit turns the Commonwealth’s back on Springfield area residents who already suffer from poor air quality that DEP is now allowing to get worse.”

Sylvia Broude, Executive Director at Toxics Action Center, said, “As documented by the MA Department of Public Health, Springfield residents already suffer the effects of dirty air, with childhood asthma rates nearly double the rest of Massachusetts. And there is no question that the PRE biomass power plant will worsen air pollution and increase the health impacts burden already unfairly shouldered by local residents.”

Sue Reid, VP and Director of CLF Massachusetts, said, “Not only has DEP failed the good people of Springfield with its flawed approval of the PRE air permit, its decision also undermines public participation in all future air permitting proceedings. DEP Commissioner Kimmell’s new policy laid out in the PRE air permit decision would place unreasonable burdens on everyone who seeks to intervene in air permitting proceedings to protect their health and the health of their communities. We therefore believe the decision is inconsistent with DEP’s obligations and the Massachusetts Constitution’s explicit recognition that all people have the right to clean air. DEP inappropriately is elevating the rights of polluters above the people and environment the agency is charged with protecting.”

Reid continued, “In the wake of this troubling decision, we will work to hold DEP accountable for reducing, not increasing, air pollution and respecting the right to meaningful public participation.

Background

The wood-burning power plant that is the subject of DEP’s September 11 air permitting approval was first proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy in 2008 as a 38 Megawatt (MW) facility that would have combusted contaminated construction and demolition debris to produce electricity at the Palmer Paving site in an environmental justice community in Springfield. In the face of enormous public outcry and an ensuing moratorium implemented by DEP, PRE went back to the drawing board and proposed the current project—a 35 MW facility that would burn a substantially greater volume of “green” wood, reducing some toxic air emissions as compared to the earlier proposal, yet increasing other impacts in Springfield and beyond. Arise, CLF, TAC and the Ten Residents Group were among hundreds who participated and raised serious concerns during the ensuing DEP public hearing regarding the proposed air pollution permit for the PRE power plant project. DEP’s September 11 decision follows an appeal of, and upholds, the June 2011 DEP air permit that would allow the PRE power plant to emit dozens of tons of harmful fine particulates and hundreds of thousands of tons of damaging global warming pollution each year, among other impacts.

The Springfield City Council and Zoning Board of Appeals have revoked all local permits for the PRE project. Those local decisions are the subject of three pending court appeals brought by PRE.

Arise for Social Justice is a non-profit, low-income, membership, anti-oppression advocacy group in Springfield, Massachusetts that aims to build awareness and political power for the poor.  Arise has been extensively involved in local and state activities related to environmental, public health and permitting reviews for the PRE project.

Toxics Action Center is a non-profit public health and environmental organization that works side by side communities to clean up and prevent pollution and to develop non-traditional leaders to broaden the environmental movement. For the past 25 years, Toxics Action Center has assisted more than 700 community groups across New England to stand up to polluters and tackle local environmental threats.  Toxics Action Center staff have been extensively involved in local and state activities related to reviewing the PRE project.

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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