DEP Revokes Permit For Springfield Biomass Plant

Climate Action Now sponsored this protest in Springfield against biomass plant development. Photo: Rene Theberge

Source: Springfield Climate Justice Coalition

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said Friday (4/2)  in a letter to Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE) that it was revoking the Final Plan Approval necessary for the construction of a 42-mW biomass electricity generating plant proposed in East Springfield. 

The Springfield Climate Justice Coalition (SCJC), representing environmental and social justice organizations throughout the city and the region, has vigorously opposed the plant because of its threat to human health and the environment. The plant would have emitted 200 tons per year of particulate matter and other pollutants into the air of a diverse low-income environmental justice community, worsening asthma rates and severity in a city where one in five children suffer the disease. Opponents also cited the negative impact on climate change: the carbon released by the plant would have been worse per unit of electricity produced than a coal-fired generator.

The Amherst Town Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant on February 8, 2021. Councilor sponsors were Dorothy Pam (District 3) and Darcy DuMont (District 5). The citizen sponsor was The League of Women Voters of Amherst. The Resolution can be viewed here.

The plant was first proposed in 2008, but immediately faced opposition led by the late Michaelann Bewsee of Springfield’s Arise for Social Justice. Widespread community resistance, court battles and research showing its harmful effects resulted in elimination of state clean energy subsidies on which it relied for financial viability. However, the plan was reinvigorated when the Department of Energy Resources proposed in 2019 to weaken renewable energy standards so that inefficient biomass plants would once again qualify for millions in ratepayer subsidies. 

This momentum was stopped by the DEP’s letter, which indicates that the State’s Final Plan Approval for air quality has expired since no significant construction has taken place in the required timeframe. 

The letter today from DEP head Michael Gorski stated “…PRE needed to commence construction no later than March 6, 2019.” Though Palmer said it had started construction, DEP inspected the site in February and found that it had not, leading to the revocation of the permit. “MassDEP has determined to exercise this authority due to the amount of time that has elapsed since issuance of the PRE Final Plan Approval, more recent health-related information, and the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution during the intervening years.”

The ruling was influenced by a December letter to the Department by Senators Warren and Markey on behalf of the Springfield community asking for a suspension of the DEP permit. The City Council, led by Councilor Jesse Lederman who had organized against the biomass plant since he was 14 years old, voted unanimously to oppose the proposal. Neighborhood councils, religious and civic organizations across the town and around the region had joined with statewide environmental justice organizations to contact the governor to stop the plant’s construction.

Lifelong Springfield resident, Neighbor to Neighbor organizer and SCJC member Zulmalee Rivera responded to the announcement, “I’m so grateful to all who made this win possible… The people of Springfield, our coalition partners, and elected officials who said ‘NO MORE’ to our city becoming a home for pollution and environmental racism. Springfield is the asthma capital of the country, and this proposed Biomass plant would have been devastating to our communities. This serves as a reminder to myself; that when people organize and band together, we can overcome deep- pocketed opposition. The city of Springfield will breathe a little easier now knowing that we are s
stepping forward, hand in hand, in the right direction.” 

For more information look here.  

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