Toxics Action Center
Toxics Action Center

Community Groups Urge Baker Administration to Provide More Time, Opportunity for Springfield Residents to Weigh in on New Biomass Rules

For Immediate Release: May 8

Contact:
Michaelann Bewsee, Arise for Social Justice, michaelannb@gmail.com
Mary Jones, Toxics Action Center, mary@toxicsaction.org

Springfield, MA —Yesterday, on World Asthma Day, ten community groups from Springfield and the Greater Pioneer Valley demanded a public hearing in Springfield on the state’s proposal to allow large-scale biomass electric plants to be subsidized as renewable energy.

The proposed changes could pave the way for construction of a 35-megawatt biomass plant proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy in East Springfield, which would impact environmental justice communities in the city. Springfield was named “Asthma Capital” of the US in 2018 by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America based on r asthma prevalence, emergency room visits, and asthma-related deaths.

“Springfield has some the worst air quality in Massachusetts and the nation,” says Michaelann Bewsee, former director of the social justice organization Arise. “With ever-increasing traffic pollution, nearby power plants and the Covanta garbage incinerator, the last thing we need is another polluting power plant here.”

The Baker Administration has proposed a sweeping rollback of rules that govern what biomass plants can receive subsidies under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Wood-burning biomass power plants are large sources of greenhouse gases and air pollutants linked to asthma, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Rules enacted in 2012 after a long public process restricted subsidies to relatively small, high-efficiency wood-burning power plants. However, the Baker proposal will roll back these restrictions and allow biomass power plants that are major sources of CO2 and air pollution to get clean energy subsidies. The changes will also increase subsidies for garbage incineration.

The MA Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has only one public hearing on the proposed changes scheduled in Western Massachusetts, from 1:00-3:00 in Amherst on Thursday, May 16.

“It’s unrealistic for Springfield residents to attend a meeting in Amherst in the middle of the workday,” said Mary Jones of Toxics Action Center. “People in this community are already living with a high burden of air pollution and asthma, and they deserve a chance to weigh in.”

DOER has scheduled three public hearings for May 13 (Boston), May 16 (Amherst) and May 17 (Gardner) on the proposed rule changes and is currently accepting written comments until May 24. The groups charge that this process will not allow sufficient time or opportunity for impacted EJ communities in the Springfield area to participate in the public comment process.

The community groups, which include Arise for Social Justice, Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, and Toxics Action Center are referencing the state’s Environmental Justice policy in their demands for better opportunities for public participation by environmental justice communities, including for DOER to hold a separate public hearing in Springfield in the evening in a location easily accessible by public transit. The groups are also calling for an extended public comment period until at least June 24th and for Spanish-language translations of public information on the changes be made available.

For more information about the proposed regulations go to DOER’s website.

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