Proposed biomass limits restrict new plants in 90 percent of state
MONTHS AFTER THE Baker administration pulled the plug on plans for a controversial new biomass plant in Springfield, state environmental officials proposed new regulations that would drastically limit where biomass plants can be located.
The rules promulgated by the Department of Energy Resources in April say new biomass plants located in or within five miles of an environmental justice community will not qualify as a renewable energy source under a state program, the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, or RPS, that requires energy producers to obtain a certain amount of energy from renewable sources. Financially, that would likely make it impossible for a company to locate a plant there. Environmental justice communities are generally poor communities of color that are disproportionately affected by pollution.
Practically, Massachusetts has adopted an expansive definition of environmental justice communities, which means that about 90 percent of the state is within five miles of one of these communities. Most of the remaining places where biomass would be eligible for the incentive are in rural Western Massachusetts.
The restrictions, which will be the subject of a legislative hearing on Friday, are angering representatives of the few communities that could still be targeted to host biomass plants.
Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat who represents three eligible communities, said she has long believed biomass should not be eligible as a renewable energy source because of the pollution it creates – which makes it less “green” than wind or solar power. Comerford said she agrees with DOER’s decision to keep biomass out of environmental justice communities. But she said retaining eligibility in 10 percent of the state puts DOER “in a pretzel-like argument.”
“It’s saying biomass in environmental justice communities is bad, but biomass in Leyden is good,” Comerford said.
Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican who represents three eligible communities, spearheaded a letter signed by nine lawmakers expressing concern that in 35 municipalities, biomass would still be incentivized. “These large-scale power plants would burn about 1,200 tons of wood per day, emitting masses of soot and harmful pollutants into the air of surrounding communities, exacerbating existing consequences of poor air quality, such as asthma and other respiratory ailments,” O’Connor wrote. “These regulations not only demonstrate environmental neglect, but they are also patently unfair towards these ‘exception’ communities who are being both targeted for biomass siting and then are forced to endure the obstructive and harmful consequences of this energy production.”
According to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, DOER is required by statute to make biomass energy eligible for the RPS program. Biomass reduces lifecycle greenhouse gases and encourages a market for low grade wood, which can promote better forest management and avoid costly expenses to dispose of the material. The office says the five-mile exclusion was created to protect environmental justice communities that are already overburdened by pollution.
In a letter to the chairs of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, DOER commissioner Patrick Woodcock wrote that the proposed rules also align with a provision in state law that requires an environmental report for any project that impacts air quality, is likely to damage the environment, and is located within five miles of an environmental justice community.
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FROM AROUND THE WEB
Weymouth firefighters are supporting new legislation on Beacon Hill that would ensure first responders diagnosed with PTSD from on-the-job trauma have access to disability benefits. (Patriot Ledger)
Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey is holding off on issuing a vaccine requirement for city workers, a move not everyone agrees with. (Boston Globe)
The Nahant Conservation Commission and Northeastern University are at odds over compliance issues involving land the university owns on the small peninsula town. (Item Live)
The North Adams Airport Commission is missing years worth of meeting minutes and does not publicly post its upcoming meetings. Commission officials say they are a private board not subject to the open meeting law, a claim the attorney general’s office is reviewing. (Berkshire Eagle)
Rising COVID-19 cases aren’t deterring vacationers from flocking to the Cape, according to the Chamber of Commerce and landlords. (Cape Cod Times)
Amid a rise in new COVID cases, Massachusetts reported 19,000 vaccine doses yesterday, the highest number of doses administered in one day since June 30. (MassLive)
Almost all Massachusetts hospitals are now requiring their employees to be vaccinated against COVID. (Boston Globe)
The Turners Falls-based United Arc, which provides residential services to people with disabilities, is ordered to surrender its state contracts after a poor performance review. The organization is firing its executive director. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
The state gambling commission isn’t happy with the state’s two full-fledged casinos’ decision to hold off on returning poker tables to their mix of offerings. (Boston Herald)
The Worcester mayor and school committee are urging school superintendent Maureen Binienda to leave quietly when her current contract is up. (Telegram & Gazette)
Activists want the Bristol County justice system reformed and New Bedford’s Ash Street Jail closed. (Herald News)
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked after a Vatican investigation confirmed he had sexually molested adults and children, has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts in 1974. (Associated Press)
MassLive obtained surveillance video showing that the teen who allegedly killed a DYS worker in Springfield apparently shared a handshake and a hug with the worker minutes before assaulting him.
Juvenile Court in Worcester remains understaffed, causing delays in cases dealing with children. (Telegram & Gazette)MEDIA
WBUR’s Morning Edition will have a different sound come September. Former GBH investigative and human-rights reporter Rupa Shenoy will replace Bob Oakes, as he returns to reporting after 29 years hosting the show. (WBUR)