FROM: Springfield Climate Justice Coalition
DATE: April 2, 2021
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Zulma Rivera, Neighbor2Neighbor 413364-4247 or Marty Nathan 413-531-9915
“Springfield Climate Justice Coalition celebrates DEP decision to revoke biomass permit.”
SPRINGFIELD, MA. Today the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said 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 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 have 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.
SCJC celebrates this victory for community power and climate justice. Lifelong Springfield resident, Neighbor 2 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 stepping forward, hand in hand, in the right direction.”
Ms. Rivera was joined by Springfield resident and Jobs with Justice organizer Jacqueline Velez, who responded with enthusiasm, “As a Springfield resident, I commend the decision of the Mass DEP to revoke the final permit issued to Palmer Renewable Energy submitted in 2012 to build the biomass power plant in East Springfield. This is a community disproportionately impacted by environmental racism, that is combatting many medical issues exacerbated by COVID-19. The pollution this plant would create would not be contained to this community. As a mother of a child with respiratory issues I am a bit relieved. I hope this stops this injustice indefinitely.”
“For the last 12 years, Springfield residents said no, and at long last, Massachusetts officials listened and put public health before corporate profits,” said Mireille Bejjani, Western Massachusetts Community Organizer with Community Action Works. “We hope today’s decision marks a turning point in how our regulations are enforced to protect communities and achieve environmental justice.”