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Climate Action Planners Confront Biomass Project


Activists who have been working for months on a climate change plan for Springfield, Massachusetts say they must factor in an unwanted development — the possible construction of a wood-burning power plant in the city.

Neighborhood representatives, community organizers, and people from health-focused organizations have been brainstorming ways to improve the environment and reduce greenhouse gases with a goal to present a plan to the Springfield City Council by the end of the year.

Now they plan to meet on October 1st to discuss how to block a 35- megawatt  power plant a developer wants to build on the city’s east side.  Opponents have battled the project since 2008. 

   The Massachusetts Land Court last month overturned a vote by the city’s zoning board of appeals in 2011, and reinstated the building permit for the plant proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy. Michaelann Bewsee, director of Arise for Social Justice, said the court’s decision is a “huge setback.”

Bewsee and two neighbors of the proposed plant are appealing the land court’s decision.

"We oppose the biomass plant to keep the air in the city from getting worse. We've got to protect the health of the people of the city," said Bewsee.

The Springfield City Council voted 11-1 last week to file an appeal even though Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has refused to authorize funds for the case.

Springfield City Council President Michael Fenton, who is a lawyer, said he filed the notice of appeal by the September 15th deadline and will explore options for pro bono council.

" I think it is reasonable to assume there would be some interest to represent us in a pro bono capacity."

Proponents of the plant point out that it received a permit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 2012 and will create 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.

But critics, including the Conservation Law Foundation and The Massachusetts Toxics Action Center, contend the government’s air pollution standards are too lax.

Lee Ann Warner, a leader of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, warned the plant would have far-reaching effects in the Pioneer Valley.

"The whole basin is going to breath the air. It is important for everybody who lives in the area to take an interest in this."

Groups working on the climate action plan for Springfield, in addition to Arise for Social Justice, include Climate Action NOW, Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, Livewell Springfield, and the New North Citizens Council.

Members of the coalition plan to participate in the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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