Toxics Action Center
Toxics Action Center

It’s Not Just Clean Energy, It’s the Air We Breathe

This year, Springfield, Massachusetts, was once again named the Asthma Capital of the United States by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. When a biomass incinerator was proposed in Springfield more than a decade ago, neighbors knew they couldn’t let another air polluter into their city. Led by Arise for Social Justice, dedicated activists have kept the proposed incinerator from being built year after year.

This year was no different. This spring, when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker proposed to subsidize polluting biomass incinerators, Toxics Action Center partnered with Springfield activists to rally once again to protect their air. Burning wood, known as biomass, produces high-cost energy that, along with fracked gas and other fossil fuels, exacerbates climate change at a time when we should be doing everything possible to protect our climate. And this dirty energy also pollutes the air we breathe, releasing toxic pollutants linked to asthma, heart disease and cancer.

Activists are fighting against incineration incentives here in the Northeast because we know that clean energy doesn’t come out of a smokestack. Together with Arise, Toxics Action Center helped call for an additional public hearing on the dirty biomass subsidies in Springfield and prepped activists to send a united message to the Baker administration: Don’t pay polluters, we breathe what they burn. More than 150 people packed the Springfield hearing to stop the subsidies and rallied with activists from across the state.

“I live here. My kids live here. My friends live here. We breathe what they burn,” said Tanisha Arena, executive director of Arise for Social Justice. “Would you want to breathe this air?”

These additional subsidies could dial back progress we made on renewable energy just last year. When Mass Power Forward, the coalition of clean energy activists we co-coordinate, won a major increase in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2018, we meant for the state to use this boost to invest in clean, local, renewable energy that would help us transition off of dirty energy. The RPS dictates an ever-increasing amount of renewable energy that our utilities are required to buy, and is the top driver of local renewable energy production. But Gov. Baker’s changes would weaken the progress we’ve made and boost polluting energy instead.

“Doing right by Springfield means shutting down this biomass conversation for good,” said Tanisha. “We are in a climate crisis that is undeniable, and biomass makes it worse.”

The healthy, local and equitable renewable energy future we’re fighting for is one where the energy we use doesn’t pollute the air we breathe. With activists across our region leading the way, we know we’ll get there.

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