Baker, No Biomass: Springfield residents gather at Baker’s office to protest biomass rules rollback
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, 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. Learn more at www.notoxicbiomass.org.