Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Springfield Residents to Mass Lawmakers: “We Can’t Breathe”

Climate Justice Coalition Urges State Reps to Close Loophole for Polluting Power Plants in MA Climate Bill

(Springfield) A diverse coalition of community, social, civic, and public health organizations sent a strongly-worded letterto Springfield state representatives urging them to close a loophole in the House climate package that would pave the way for a controversial wood-fired power plant to be built in East Springfield. The bill, which the House passed on July 31st, has been sent to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate climate proposals.

The House 2050 Climate Roadmap bill (H.4933) creates a new greenhouse gas emission standard for municipally-owned electric utilities in MA, known as municipal light plants (MLPs). The new standard requires MLPs to sell increasing amounts of “non-carbon emitting” energy to their retail customers. However, the bill defines “non-carbon emitting” resources to include, among other things, biomass power plants.

“The House climate bill throws a lifeline to wood-burning power plants, like the one proposed for Springfield, which are too polluting to qualify for Massachusetts’ renewable energy subsidies,” said Verne McArthur, who serves on the steering committee for the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. “There is no way that this plant should be considered good for our climate or good for our health. This stinks to high heaven.”

Sy’air Bey, environmental justice organizer of Arise for Social Justice, which has led the fight against the Palmer biomass plant for more than a decade, said, “People in our community can’t breathe. Springfield has been given a failing grade for air quality from the American Lung Association and named “Asthma Capitol of the USA” for the last two years. People living in low-income communities of color with poor air quality are at increased risk of dying from Covid-19. The last thing that Springfield needs right now is to become a sacrifice zone to produce inexpensive power for wealthy communities in the eastern part of the state.”

“Defining biomass power plants as “non-carbon emitting” is categorically false and would roll back years of progress in Massachusetts,” said Laura Haight, U.S. Policy Director for the Pelham-based nonprofit Partnership for Policy Integrity. “You cannot wave a magic wand above a 275-foot smokestack and make it disappear – the pollution is real.”

The typical biomass power plant emits more than 150% as much CO2 as a modern coal plant per megawatt hour of electricity, and 350% as much as a new natural gas plant. The 35-MW wood-burning power plant proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy would generate more than 400,000 tons per year of CO2 emissions. Under its state permit, the Palmer plant would also spew out hundreds of tons of air pollutants each year that are hazardous to human health, including fine particulates (PM 2.5), smog precursors, heavy metals and other cancer-causing chemicals, and generate more than a ton of ash per hour. 

Palmer has been actively trying to gain access to lucrative municipal contracts and clean energy subsidies for at least the past year. Arise, SCJC, and PFPI sent a joint letter to Energy New England last May after learning that the power broker was encouraging MLPs in eastern MA to enter into long term power purchase agreements with Palmer, falsely touting its climate benefits. At the time, ENE claimed that the Palmer plant would be likely eligible for MA renewable energy credits by Fall 2019.

The Baker Administration subsequently proposed weakening the eligibility requirements for biomass power plants to qualify for MA’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), which would have made the Palmer plant eligible for an estimated $10-12 million each year in MA renewable energy credits. Springfield residents, together with environmental organizations across the state, vigorously opposed these rule changes, which are still pending. 

The language in the House bill would bypass this process entirely and allow any biomass power plant, no matter how polluting, to qualify as “non-emitting” for the purpose of the new MLP greenhouse gas emissions standard. 

The letter concludes:

We urge you to speak to your colleagues on the conference committee and tell them that this is an environmental injustice of the highest order. Springfield deserves the same protections as everyone else. The House may not have been aware of the implications of this language when it passed its climate bill last month. We hope we can count on you to work with your colleagues in the conference committee to correct this language before it becomes law.

In addition to the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, the following groups signed on to the letter individually: ARISE for Social Justice; Climate Action Now; Community Action Works; Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group; Neighbor To Neighbor; New North Citizens Council; Pioneer Valley Project; Public Health Institute of Western Mass; Sunrise of Western Mass; and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield.

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