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Controversial Springfield biomass plant blocked from development (The Reminder)

Read the original Reminder article by Matt Conway here.

Following years of advocacy against the development, a proposed biomass power plant in Springfield will remain without a permit following a Massachusetts Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution decision on Nov. 30. In 2021, the Department of Environmental Protection decided to revoke permits for the planned development, which led to an appeal by developer Palmer Renewable Energy.

The biomass plant initially received a permit in 2012 after Palmer Renewable Energy first proposed the project in 2008.

In the years that followed, local organizations, such as Arise for Social Justice and the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, spoke out against the development planned for East Springfield on 1000 Page Blvd.

Community leaders, like City Council President Jesse Lederman and Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, also expressed their opposition. In 2020, Markey and Warren asked the state to suspend and reassess the approval of the biomass plant due to its potential impact to green energy and climate change programs. Additionally, Lederman submitted a petition against the development in 2020 with over 2,500 signatures, which eventually inspired a 2020 City Council resolution against the biomass plant.

Organizations and leaders both expressed concern with the plant’s production process. The proposed development would have burned wood to generate energy – a business model that inspired opposition due to its negative climate impacts and detrimental effects to Springfield’s air quality.

“I want the members of the conference committee to understand the direct impact that encouraging development of these types of incinerators could have on our community, our air quality, and the well-being of our children, seniors, and all residents, as well as the scientifically inaccurate nature of this definition. We need them to do the right thing,” said Lederman in a 2020 press release.

Springfield currently possesses an Air Quality Index of 79, which is considered a moderate score. The city is also synonymous with high asthma rates. In 2022, Springfield placed 52 on a national ranking of asthma prevalent cities based on an annual report by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

In the aftermath of the plant’s upheld permit removal, leaders expressed support for the Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution’s decision. Markey cited the blocked development as a crucial victory for Springfield’s climate.

“The revocation of the approval for the Palmer biomass plant was and continues to be a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet … Our communities are not sacrifice zones for polluting projects, and I am glad that our Springfield families will not have to face the burden of the dangerous Palmer plant,” said Markey in a press release.

Warren echoed Markey’s sentiments about the decision and its impact on environmental justice.

“This decision is a win for environmental justice. I’m glad that state regulators once again heeded the call from residents, Senator Markey and me to protect and improve the air quality of our Springfield community,” said Warren in a press release.

Lederman highlighted the holistic efforts that went into denouncing the development.

“For more than a decade, Springfield residents and elected officials have made clear our resounding opposition to outside profiteers seeking to pollute the air of our children and seniors through this proposed biomass incinerator … Together we are making clear: the days of polluters being rubber stamped in cities like ours are over,” said Lederman in a press release.

Arise for Social Justice Executive Director Tanisha Arena also highlighted the potential detrimental impacts the biomass plant could have had in Springfield.

“The biomass plant would have been here in Springfield, but with a 90-mile radius for the smoke, communities across multiple states would have felt the impact. I don’t want it in my backyard, I also don’t want it in yours either because it harms all of us,” said Arena in a press release.

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