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Springfield Says “No” To Biomass Power Plant

Springfield, MA – More than 75 people gathered on the steps of City Hall on Thursday calling for an end to a long-proposed biomass project in East Springfield, saying it is a threat to public health and an environmental hazard.

Some of those speaking used he phrase “we can’t breathe” in expressing their strong opposition to the wood-to-energy plant proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy LLC at 1000 Page Blvd.

Verne McArthur, of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, led the activists and residents in chants against the biomass project, including, “We will, we will, block you, block you.”

“This event is about the zombie project — this biomass plant that Palmer Renewable wants to build and keeps pulling political strings to get loopholes to go do it,” McArthur said. “We’ve been fighting it for 10 years and they’re now trying to come back.”

There is a climate bill before the state Legislature, in conference committee, that includes one proposed clause that would list biomass energy plants as “non-emitting sources” — a designation that would help the developers receive subsidies, opponents said. Ten city councilors have urged legislators to reject the clause, and there is also a signature petition.

The demonstration occurred after a recent council subcommittee meeting in which the city’s building commissioner, Steven Desilets, said the biomass building permit remains valid despite being initially approved in 2011 and later extended.

Palmer Renewable Energy plans a $150 million, 35-megawatt plant to convert green wood to energy. It obtained a special permit for the project 12 years ago, and has prevailed each time the project was challenged in court.

The developers have defended the project, saying it would not be harmful to public health and would not worsen air pollution. A spokesman was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

At the rally, Tanisha Arena of Arise for Social Justice said she refuses to be complicit in “demise and destruction” brought by biomass energy.

“We can’t breathe,” Arena said. “I live here, my kids live here. I have to breathe what they burn. Biomass is not clean energy. We have a right to breathe clean air. Springfield, stand up.”

Zulma Rivera, of Neighbor to Neighbor, urged residents to remain vigilant. She said everyone and their families deserve clean air. Biomass is “not clean energy, it’s not renewable energy,” she said.

Councilor Jesse Lederman said: “We know that clean air does not come out of a smoke stack.” Tons of harmful gases and materials would be emitted, he said.

The plant is “bad for the air and therefore bad for breathing, and therefore really bad for asthmatic people,” McArthur said. In addition, there would be several trucks visiting the site daily, bringing their own carbon pollution.

Opponents are also concerned that, if the plant is allowed in Springfield, it would open the door to other biomass plants in the state, he said.

Organizations and individuals that participated in Thursday’s demonstration included the Justice Coalition, Arise for Social Justice, Neighbor to Neighbor, Sunrise Western Mass Coalition, Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts and members of the faith community.

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