_5260019 - 2016-05-26 at 18-14-20Biomass

Photo credit to Rene Theberge

Palmer Plant Pollution and Health

  • If constructed, Palmer will be the state's largest wood-burning biomass plant.
  • The 42-MW plant will burn nearly a ton of green wood chips per minute, around the clock, requiring a smokestack more than twenty stories high to help disperse the pollution;
  • Even with “state of the art” pollution controls, the plant will emit more than 200 tons of harmful air pollutants each year;
  • These annual emissions include 33 tons of fine particulate matter (PM), which lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled and are now linked to an increased risk of dying from COVID-19;
  • Other pollutants include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic chemicals, which are smog precursors; and hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, lead, other heavy metals, and hydrochloric acid. These chemicals are linked to asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
  • Wood for burning will be delivered to the site in 25-ton trucks, 5-6 days a week, during daylight hours- more than four truckloads an hour. Emissions from increased truck traffic and other “fugitive” emissions from wood chip and ash storage at the site all add to the health risk this plant will pose to the surrounding community.
GREATER BOSTON PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY LETTER The following letter was sent to Governor Baker by the Greater Boston Physicians for Social responsibility on 3/8/21:

The Hon. Charles D. Baker, Governor

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

State House

24 Beacon Street, Room 360,

Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Baker,

We at Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility (GBPSR), a group of nationally-recognized experts in public health, cancer epidemiology, occupational medicine, environmental health, emergency medicine, disaster preparedness and the health effects of climate change, are writing to urge you to withdraw proposed changes to the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that would allow unsafe and unsustainable wood-burning power plants, such as the proposed Palmer Biomass Plant in Springfield, to qualify for renewable energy subsidies in Massachusetts.

“Burning biomass kills 2.3 million people a year worldwide,” according to public health expert Dr. Philip Landrigan, who is Director of the Global Observatory on Pollution and Health at Boston College. Biomass fuels may be theoretically renewable, but they are far from safe. Weakening Massachusetts’ stringent air quality standards translates, in essence, to abandoning our scientifically sound and cost-effective public health protections that for years have safeguarded health in the Commonwealth and resulted in substantial reductions in pollution-related disease and death.

Bending the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to designate the proposed large-scale commercial biomass power plant in East Springfield as a “renewable energy facility” will allow the plant to qualify for more than $14 million per year in renewable energy subsidies. This politically engineered windfall will enrich the plant’s owners, but will convey no benefit to the local community. At the same time, such a policy would increase air pollution and pollution-related disease in the Connecticut River Valley. This is blatantly unjust. Moreover, the emissions from this plant will further increase climate-damaging emissions of greenhouse gases at a time when scientists are telling us to urgently slash these emissions. This is shortsighted and reckless.

Air pollution kills more than 10,000 people in the United States and 600 persons in Massachusetts each year --a disproportionate number of them in low-income and minority communities. These men, women and children die prematurely from diseases that include myocardial infarction, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and pneumonia – diseases that could be prevented by reducing air pollution levels in the Commonwealth. Emissions of fine particulates and other air pollutants from proposed large-scale commercial biomass power plant in East Springfield will undoubtedly increase this toll of disease and premature death, magnifying social injustice and increasing Medicare costs.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The World Health Organization has estimated that without reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, approximately 230,000 to 250,000 excess deaths per year from 2030 to 2050 will be attributable to climate change - and this estimate is considered conservative.

A further concern that we at GBPSR have about the proposed wood-burning plant in Springfield is that it will exacerbate social injustice in Massachusetts. Low-income communities of color in and around Springfield will be disproportionately and severely affected by the Department of Energy Resources’ proposed rule changes. Springfield currently has unacceptably high levels of air pollution. Springfield has been named “the Asthma Capital of the Nation” by the National Asthma and Allergy Association because it has both the highest prevalence of asthma and the largest number of asthma-related emergency room visits in the country. Almost 1 in 5 children in Springfield have asthma, a rate twice that in Massachusetts overall.

Building a power plant in an environmental justice community that already has disproportionately high rates of respiratory disease would exacerbate the already high burden of disease and premature death by increasing levels of damaging fine particulate matter and hazardous air pollutants. These pollutants are linked to a wide range of serious health conditions, including increased rates of lung disease, heart disease, cancer and increased risk of death from Covid-19.

You and your administration have stated publicly that you intend to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts by 2050. Your head of the Department of Public Health, Dr. Monica Bharel, has spoken out against structural racism. These are goals that we endorse, but we must point out to you that this proposal goes in exactly the opposite direction of both goals. Per unit of energy produced, burning wood results in 150% more carbon dioxide than burning coal and 300-400% more carbon dioxide than burning natural gas. Furthermore, although biomass has been advertised as a carbon-neutral energy solution because of the ability to plant more trees for carbon sequestration, the reality is that it takes mere seconds to burn a tree whereas it takes decades to centuries for a tree to regrow.

A negative economic consequence of this proposal that will affect all ratepayers across the Commonwealth is that it will force Massachusetts ratepayers to pay higher premiums for dirty, unsustainable energy.

In sum, the proposed large-scale commercial biomass power plant in East Springfield may only be classified as a renewable energy facility if you choose to bend the law and make that designation a legal reality. But let us make no mistake about the fact that this facility will not be a clean operation. It will be a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and the airborne waste it generates will cause unnecessary disease and premature death.

Massachusetts is in a unique position to continue to be a leader in environmental and climate justice in the nation. We urge you to safeguard the health of Springfield residents, protect our air quality and withdraw your proposed changes to the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Thank you for your consideration.

Brita E. Lundberg, MD

Chair of the Board

Environmental Justice Concerns

In Springfield, MA, we breathe some of the most polluted air in the nation. One in five of our children has asthma, and the pollution has led to the city receiving the dubious title of “asthma capital of the U.S.” from the national Asthma and Allergy Association. The Palmer plant, if constructed, will be located in a working-class neighborhood of mostly Black or Hispanic residents. This follows a trend of placing the region's largest polluters in places where the highest percentage of Hispanic and African-American residents live. A Hampshire Gazette analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data in 2019 showed that of the top 20 greenhouse gas polluters in western Massachusetts, 11 are in Hampden County. And most of those facilities- like power plants and landfills- benefit residents beyond the borders of Hampden County. Recent studies have also shown that environmental justice communities with elevated particulate matter (PM) levels suffer a higher fatality rate from COVID-19. This plant would emit 33 tons of fine particulate matter every year!

Recent Media Coverage

State bans biomass power plants near environmental justice communities from qualifying for state incentives Boston Globe David Abel April 16, 2021 Baker Administration Would Block Renewable Energy Credits For Springfield Biomass Project WAMC Paul Tuthill April 16,2021 New Rules Require More Efficient Biomass Energy Plants State House News Service Colin Young April 15, 2021 Mass. Backtracks On Renewable Energy Subsidies For Wood-Burning Biomass Plants WBUR Miriam Wasser April 16, 2021 New state regulations strike another blow against proposed biomass project in Springfield MassLive Peter Goonan April 16, 2021 Biomass facility to appeal state revocation of permit April 13, 2021 G. Michael Dobbs The Reminder State has hopefully struck a fatal blow to Springfield power plant April 3, 2021 Yvonne Abraham Boston Globe After years of protests, state officials revoke permit for controversial biomass plant in Springfield April 2, 2021 Boston Globe David Abel Mass. Revokes Air Permit For Controversial Biomass Facility In Springfield April 2, 2021 WBUR Miriam Wasser Baker Pulls the Plug on Springfield Biomass Plant April 2, 2021 Commonwealth Magazine Bruce Mohl Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Revokes Approval for East Springfield Biomass Plant April 2, 2021 MassLive Biomass a ‘misbegotten’ climate change trend
March 31, 2021
Daily Hampshire Gazette
Marty Nathan Disturbing that state is promoting biomass plant March 21, 2021 Gazette Net Stephen Arons

Despite His Claims, Science is Not on Vic Gatto's Side

March 18, 2021

Commonwealth Magazine

by Mary Booth

Protect Our Clean Air

March 9, 2021

Greenfield Recorder

by Bob Armstrong

Palmer Renewable Energy can’t greenwash its emissions away (Guest viewpoint)
Posted Mar 08, 2021

by Mary Booth

Proposed Biomass plant in Springfield should not move forward Posted Mar 1, 2021 MassLive By Kirsten Zamirowski, Longmeadow Baker's $175m regulatory gift to biomass: Few municipal light plants actually wanted project Feb 20, 2021 - Commonwealth Magazine By David Talbot Anti Biomass Plant rally in Springfield February 17, 2021 - MassLive Activists Urge Gov. Baker To Reverse Energy Rules That Boost Biomass February 17, 2021 - WAMC By Paul Tuthill 12-year battle continues: Area organizations urge Gov. Charlie Baker to not allow rule changes favorable to Springfield biomass plant February 17,2021 - MassLive By Peter Goonan Coalition asking Baker to withdraw rule allowing biomass energy plants to qualify for clean energy subsidies February 17, 2021 - 22 News WWLP By Jeff Martin Baker is wrong to subsidize wood burning: 4 scientists say using wood to generate electricity will worsen climate change January 4, 2021 - CommonWealth By William Moomaw, John Sterman, Juliette Rooney-Varga and Richard Birdsey Massachusetts lawmakers deal blow to Springfield biomass project January 2, 2021 - MassLive By Jim Kinney Scrutiny persists over biomass plant in Springfield December 31, 2020 - Daily Hampshire Gazette By Dusty Christensen Sens. Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warrren oppose Springfield biomass project by Palmer Renewable Energy December 24, 2020 - MassLive By Jim Kinney Senators Markey and Warren Call For Pause On Springfield, Massachusetts, Biomass Plant December 24, 2020 - New England Public Media By Karen Brown Senators Markey and Warren Urge Reconsideration of Decade-Old Air Permit for Proposed Biomass-Fired Power Plant in Springfield and Reassessment of Air Quality Impacts December 24, 2020 - Official Press Statement Biomass plant will create a 'sacrifice zone' in Springfield (Guest viewpoint) December 23, 2020 -- MassLive By Marty Nathan Mass. Has Strong Rules About Burning Wood For Electricity. In 2021, It Plans to Roll Them Back December 22, 2020 - WBUR By Miriam Wasser Springfield City Council passes resolution opposing millions in state subsidies for biomass incineration December 22, 2020 - 22 News WWLP By Ariana Tourangeau Activists Look To Beacon Hill To Stop Biomass Power Plant Project December 2, 2020 - WAMC Northeast Public Radio By Paul Tuthill Letter: Thank You, RMLD, For Reconsidering Your Palmer Biomass Contract! October 29, 2020 - The Reading Post In the nation's asthma capital, plans to burn wood for energy spark fury October 20, 2020 - Boston Globe By David Abel Marty Nathan: 'Clean energy doesn't come out of a smokestack' October 8, 2020 - Valley Advocate By Marty Nathan Activists Continue 10-Year Fight Over Biomass Project September 29, 2020 - WAMC Northeast Public Radio By Paul Tuthill Clause must be removed from biomass legislation (Letters) September 27, 2020 - MassLive Environmental activists rally against proposed biomass incinerator in Springfield September 3, 2020 - 22 News WWLP By Kristina D'Amours Kill the 'zombie': Springfield demonstration calls for end to biomass proposal after decade-long battle September 3, 2020 - MassLive By Peter Goonan Springfield City Hall opposes biomass incinerator part of state climate bill August 13, 2020 - 22 News WWLP By Sy Becker Why Are We Here Again? Standing with Springfield Against Biomass July 10, 2019 - Conservation Law Foundation By Rohemir Ramirez 'Biomass Isn't Clean Energy': Springfield activist blast state plan at hearing June 6, 2019 - Valley Advocate Chris Goudreau

Climate Impact

The owner of the Palmer plant continues to make false claims about the climate benefits of his project. For example, he insists that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will results in less greenhouse gas pollution compared to allowing it to decompose on the ground. In reality, burning wood emits more carbon pollution per unit of energy than even coal. And because burning wood adds carbon to the atmosphere much faster than trees can grow back to sequester it, net greenhouse gas emissions will increase for decades to centuries.

Organizational Sign-On Letter to Baker

Demand Letter to Governor Baker from Springfield area organizations Dear Governor Baker, We come to you representing the people of Springfield who have fought for over twelve years to prevent construction of the Palmer Renewable Energy company’s wood-burning biomass plant proposed to be built in East Springfield. We demand that you withdraw the Department of Energy Resources’ proposed amendments to the Renewable Portfolio Standard that would allow inefficient and dirty biomass power plants like the Palmer plant to qualify as renewable energy in Massachusetts and collect millions of dollars in subsidies each year. Your proposed rule changes will make the Palmer plant economically feasible, forcing ratepayers to subsidize a dirty power plant that will pollute our air, make us sick from asthma, chronic lung disease and vascular disease, and contribute to the climate crisis that threatens us all. One in five of Springfield’s children suffer from asthma. For two years in a row Springfield was designated the Asthma Capital of the Country by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, in no small part due to the polluted air that triggers the disease. The Palmer plant would further spew particulate matter, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, carcinogens and heavy metals to be breathed by residents of surrounding low-income, diverse, environmental justice neighborhoods in Springfield, forcing more emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and premature deaths for our family members and friends. Recent health studies have shown that low-income communities with greater particulate matter pollution have a higher death rate from Covid-19. Biomass power plants are too expensive to compete with other sources of electricity generation, and so require either our rate-payer subsidies or artificial markets to survive financially. When in 2019 the state first promoted changing the Renewable Portfolio Standard to allow inefficient biomass power plants like Palmer to qualify, over 200 people flooded the Springfield hearing, protesting giving our money to create this public health hazard. Further, testimony repeatedly referenced the Commonwealth-sponsored Manomet Study which found that net carbon dioxide emissions from biomass plants, even when burning wood waste residues, exceed oil or gas-fired power plants for at least thirty years; this at a time, when international climate scientists agree we need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by 2030. Plus, we need more trees to capture and store excess carbon from the atmosphere. To add woody biomass power to renewable energy choices is to defy science and to contribute to, not mitigate, the climate crisis. We are entering a new era in our state and federal approach to the battle against pollution and climate change. Policy-makers from Boston to Washington are recognizing that we face a climate emergency, that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut immediately and the transition to clean energy must be viewed and achieved using the lens of social justice. Communities like Springfield who have suffered most and longest, while contributing the least to the climate crisis, must be relieved of the public health burden we have borne and must benefit, not suffer, from a real clean energy transition. Your proposed amendments violate both principles: inefficient biomass plants will contribute to the climate crisis and the Springfield plant they enable will inflict environmental and climate injustice on our residents. On behalf of the residents of Springfield and all other towns in the future subject to the biomass threat, we request that you immediately withdraw the RPS biomass amendments. We further request that you and Secretary Woodcock meet with us in Springfield so that you can better understand the threat that your policy changes pose to our community. Sincerely, Springfield Climate Justice Coalition Springfield No One Leaves Environmental Justice Team First Church of Christ Longmeadow Extinction Rebellion Western Massachusetts Live Well Springfield Western Mass. Medicare for All The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice Mass Forest Rescue Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield Pioneer Valley Project Wendell State Forest Alliance Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts The Enviro Show Partnership For Policy Integrity Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals Decarcerate WMass Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts Indian Orchard Citizens Council Concerned Citizens of Springfield Environmental Justice Team First Church of Christ Longmeadow Community Action Works Social Justice Commission (Episcopal Diocese of Western MA) Pioneer Valley Workers Center Sunrise Hampden County First Church of Christ Longmeadow, MA Climate Action Now (Western Mass) East Springfield Neighborhood Council Western New England University Sunrise Hub Pioneer Valley Mothers Out Front Arise for Social Justice Keep Springfield Beautiful Gardening the Community Western Mass Science for the People Greater Springfield Campaign Nonviolence Green Team, Jewish Community of Amherst © 2021 No Toxic Biomass

SCJC Press Release

Baker, No Biomass Springfield residents gather at Baker’s office to protest biomass rules rollback For Immediate Release: February 17th, 2021 Media Contacts: Verne McArthur, Springfield Climate Justice Coalition vernemca@gmail.com 413-439-3324 Mireille Bejjani, Community Action Works mireille@communityactionworks.org 914-310-8439 Springfield, MA — Western Massachusetts residents spoke out against Governor Baker’s energy regulation rollbacks on Wednesday to protect their communities from a toxic biomass plant proposed for Springfield. The protest was the most recent chapter of a 12-year long fight to keep Palmer Renewable Energy (Palmer) from adding yet another source of air pollution in a city that has twice been designated the “Asthma Capital” of the country. Members of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, a grassroots organization that has been spearheading the fight against the biomass plant, protested outside of Baker’s Western Massachusetts office and released a letter to Governor Baker signed by 38 Springfield area organizations. The letter lays out their concerns and demands a meeting between Baker, Patrick Woodcock (commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources), and members of this at-risk environmental justice community who will be severely impacted by pollution from the proposed plant. “We are here, being forced to continue to raise awareness and push back against the unjust practices our lawmakers implement,” explained Zulmalee Rivera, Springfield Organizer at Neighbor to Neighbor. “These practices are constantly at the expense of our vulnerable communities. This is a question of health, race, and equity.” “One in five of Springfield’s children already suffers from asthma,” said Jacqueline Velez, Springfield resident and community organizer. “If Palmer builds this highly-polluting biomass power plant that percentage will only increase, putting further strain on a local public health system that is already short-staffed.” The proposed 42-MW wood-burning power plant would emit more than 33 tons of fine particulates each year, which contributes to a wide range of heart and lung diseases and premature death. While biomass is often promoted as a form of renewable energy, it actually generates more carbon dioxide than any fossil fuel, and 75% more than natural gas. Therefore, not only would this proposed plant hurt the community, it would exacerbate the climate crisis as well. “If Governor Baker is to fulfill his duty as governor and protect all citizens of the Commonwealth, he needs to be at the forefront of the fight against the climate crisis. The first step in doing that is to prevent plants like this one from being built”, shared Sunrise Hampden County hub coordinator and Ludlow High School student Lizzy Pereira. Since 2012, Massachusetts has been a leader in renewable energy, thanks to hard-won improvements to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) regulations in 2012 that exclude all but the most efficient biomass power plants from qualifying for clean energy subsidies. In 2019, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) proposed a rollback of these regulations so that highly polluting biomass power plants like Palmer would qualify for millions in clean energy subsidies per year. ““It is unconscionable that subsidies intended to fund a clean energy economy in truly renewable resources, like solar and wind, could go to such a polluting industry, which targets and disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Naia Tenerowicz, local disability justice and climate justice organizer. Despite a public comment process during which residents across the Commonwealth voiced their strong opposition, Governor Baker and his administration issued the amendment that would weaken the RPS regulation in December 2020. The Palmer plant will benefit first and foremost, and the developers have admitted themselves that these subsidies are the financial lifeline the project needs to be feasible. The protest is only the beginning in this chapter of opposition to the project. The group also established a campaign website (notoxicbiomass.org), launched a digital ad campaign to object to the rule change, and has other actions planned for the coming months. “It’s clear to us that this plant is a bad idea and that Springfield doesn’t want it. The community leaders who have been pushing back for over a decade are going to keep building visibility and public opposition until it’s abundantly clear to Baker, too,” said Mireille Bejjani, Western Massachusetts Community Organizer at Community Action Works.
### Springfield Climate Justice Coalition is a coalition of community, social, civic, and public health organizations, faith based groups, and businesses that aims to bring Springfield to the forefront of urban communities on the issues of climate change and environmental justice, and create a city where all of our residents can breathe clean air. www.notoxicbiomass.org.

Statements from the Attorney General's Office

March 12, 2021: In response to the state's proposed Clean Energy Climate Plan plan, the AGO wrtote a letter to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which states, among other things: "The Plan’s reliance on clean energy policies and programs will only achieve the required emissions reductions if those policies and programs incentivize truly low- or noemitting generation. The AGO remains concerned, however, that the Department of Energy Resources’ recent effort to expand eligibility criteria for biomass generation units under the Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS) would increase—not decrease— greenhouse gas emissions and incentivize polluting generation in an EJ community in Springfield, 24 the asthma capital of the nation." December 23, 2020: In response to the proposed rules rollback that would qualify large, polluting biomass plants for clean energy subsidies, the AGO wrote a letter to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy, which states, among other things: "The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease— greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.

A Man Named CharlieVerne McArthur
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Photo credit to Rene Theberge