State revokes permit for proposed Springfield biomass plant

Staff Writer
Published: 4/4/2021 8:40:31 PM

SPRINGFIELD — A proposed biomass power plant, long the subject of controversy and opposition, had its air quality permit revoked by the state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday.

The proposed wood-burning plant is being developed by Palmer Renewable Energy. However, in a letter to the company, MassDEP western regional office director Michael Gorski said the DEP was revoking the proposed East Springfield plant’s permit because construction had not commenced within a two-year time frame. Environmental concerns were also cited.

“MassDEP has determined to exercise this authority due to the amount of time that has elapsed since issuance of the PRE (Palmer Renewable Energy) 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,” reads part of the letter.

The final plan approval for the facility was issued in 2012, and the DEP said that even with the most generous interpretation of delays for the project, construction should have started by 2019.

“MassDEP has determined that PRE has performed certain site modifications for the facility but has not commenced construction within two years of the date of a plan approval within the meaning of 310 CMR 7.02(3)(k),” reads part of the letter.

Activists affiliated with the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, which has long opposed the plant, reacted positively to the letter.

“We are thrilled and delighted,” said coalition member Marty Nathan. “It’s a win in two separate areas.”

Nathan, a longtime Northampton social justice and environmental activist, said that the pulling of the permit was a victory for the climate and against environmental racism and classism. Nathan was also a physician in Springfield for almost two decades, where she witnessed the high levels of asthma in the city, something she said the proposed plant would exacerbate.

“For me it flowed from the health work that I was doing in Springfield,” said Nathan, on her opposition to the project.

Zulma Rivera, an organizer with Neighbor 2 Neighbor and another member of the coalition, said that while she was grateful for the decision, “We still reall need to be vigilant.”

“We’re definitely still going to keep an eye on where this is leading,” she said.

Attempts to reach Palmer Renewable Energy by phone Sunday were not successful.

Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, 26, has been organizing against the plant since he was a teenager.

“I think DEP has made the right decisions,” said Lederman.

He noted that in addition to the time frame for construction, the impact on public health and the recognition of Springfield as a recognized environmental justice community was cited by the letter.

“The days of polluters being rubber-stamped in communities like ours are over,” he said.

In terms of the project’s future, Lederman noted that the project cannot proceed without the air permit. And he said that the City Council is moving forward with going before the Zoning Board Appeals to argue that the project’s local building permit has expired.

Other elected officials also weighed in against the project.

“I applaud the Department of Environmental Protection for taking this important action to protect our environment and the air that we breathe,” said Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, in a statement texted to the Gazette. “The fact is the pollution from this plant would not just have endangered Springfield. The impact on our environment and air quality would be felt by so many in the surrounding communities, and I am grateful to all the residents of Western Mass who have advocated on this issue.”

Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, also expressed his satisfaction with the decision.

“Frankly, the revocation is long overdue and the plant should never have been considered for that location in the first place,” said Lesser, in a statement. “The idea of siting a biomass facility in the asthma capital of the United States lacked common sense or regard for equity, and I am relieved that MassDEP issued its decision to revoke the permit. This is a major victory for our region and everyone who has stood against this project.”

Massachusetts United States Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, who wrote a letter opposing the project in December to the DEP, cheered the department’s decision.

“The revocation of the approval for the Palmer biomass plant is a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet,” said the senators in a joint statement. “We are pleased that MassDEP heeded our call to prioritize environmental justice and air quality concerns, and we are thrilled to celebrate this victory with the Springfield residents who fought so passionately against it. Today’s decision will save lives.”

Lederman also praised Markey, and he said that Markey and Warren’s work against the project was crucial in getting DEP to take a second look.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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