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Appeal expected for permit

Date: 7/12/2011

July 13, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — While state environmental officials granted an air quality permit on June 30 to Palmer Renewable Energy’s (PRE) biomass facility on Page Boulevard, opponents say the fight against the plant isn’t over yet.

Michaelann Bewsee, of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, said the group has a 20-day period in which they can appeal the ruling from the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

The appeal “would slow down things for a couple of months,” Bewsee said.

The MassDEP decision followed a vote by the Springfield City Council, which revoked the special permit it issued in 2008 for the project. PRE is suing the city.

Bewsee said the opponents “will do everything we can to help the city launch an aggressive defense against the PRE lawsuit.”

Biomass opponent LeAnne Warner said, “It is extremely important at this time that the [Springfield’s] mayor and building commissioner not issue a building permit to the biomass plant until the litigation regarding the special permit is completed.”

Bewsee said the opponents to the plant were not surprised by the issuance of the permit and that some of the testimony about the possible environmental impacts from the plant resulted in a more stringent permit.

“It’s a better permit than it would have been [without the information from opponents],” Bewsee said.

In the letter announcing the permit to Dr. Victor Gatto of PRE, Michael Gorski, the DEP regional director for the Western Regional Office, wrote, “In issuing this Conditional Approval, MassDEP has reviewed the PRE proposal for compliance with the following applicable air pollution control regulatory requirements: MassDEP Air Plan Approval Requirements; National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS); MassDEP Noise Requirements; New Source Performance Standards (NSPS); Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR); Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions to Regional Registry; Title IV Sulfur Dioxide Allowances and Monitoring; Title V Operating Permit. MassDEP’s analysis under each of these categories is outlined in greater detail below. In summary, MassDEP finds that the project as presented by PRE (through the submissions listed above) will meet all applicable permitting standards required for issuing this Conditional Approval, including compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The NAAQS are stringent health-based standards established under the Clean Air Act (CAA) that are designed to preserve public health and protect sensitive subpopulations, such as people with diseases (e.g. asthma, cardiovascular disease), children and the elderly.”

Gorski continued, “MassDEP also finds that PRE has substantially reduced the emissions profile of the facility that is the subject of this Conditional Approval (which would be limited to using primarily green wood chips derived from tree pruning, land clearing, etc., but not forestry operations) compared to its initial submission which used C&D [construction and demolition] wood as a fuel. The revised proposal meets or exceeds all applicable standards for emissions of air pollutants and, when compared to the prior proposal, reduces most hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) emissions, as well as emissions of heavy metals and reduces nitrogen oxides (NOx) by over 72 percent and carbon monoxide (CO) by approximately 48 percent.”

In a document listing the MassDEP response to testimony given against the proposed plant and its contribution to increased air pollution, the following statement was made: “In the case of Palmer Renewable Energy, LLC, it has been demonstrated that the plant will neither cause nor contribute to a violation of the NAAQS in terrain surrounding the site. Therefore, the plant will not have an adverse effect on public health or welfare in the area.”

Warner is not impressed by MassDEP’s ability to closely monitor a facility, such as the one to be built by PRE, based on long-time efforts to curb emissions at the Mount Tom Power Plant in Holyoke.

Attorney General Martha Coakley announced on June 30 her office and MassDEP had reached a settlement with the plant to meet “substantially reduced emissions limits for particulate matter and install a continuous emissions monitoring system to measure compliance with those limits.”

The plant must also pay a $25,000 penalty to the Commonwealth and the company must also contribute $70,000 to fund a program to educate owners of old wood stoves and wood-fired boilers in the greater Holyoke area to encourage upgrading to equipment meeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards.

“Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is gratified to see the State take enforcement action to address the violations that were uncovered at Mt. Tom,” CFL Staff Attorney Shanna Cleveland said. “Particulate matter is one of the deadliest air pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants, and is a major contributor to the poor air quality that is sickening residents in Holyoke and surrounding communities. The state’s insistence on continuous monitoring is an important step toward ensuring that the plant cannot continue to violate emissions limits with impunity.”

Cleveland also said, “The only way to stop Mt. Tom from polluting the air and making people sick is for it to shut down. We need to be thinking less about how to keep old, polluting coal plants operating and more about how to get our electricity from clean, renewable energy.”

Bewsee also expressed the fear that once the PRE plant is built, it could seek to switch its fuel source back to construction and demolition waste. She said a notice of project change, if accepted by MassDEP, would allow that.

She noted there was a rally at the State House on June 23 to show support for a change in the laws governing the use of construction and demolition waste and to allow it as fuel.

Z-Gen, a Boston-based company, that describes itself on its Web site as “a renewable energy company that combines proprietary gasification technology with ordinary waste streams in order to generate clean, sustainable, low-cost synthesis gas for multiple industrial applications,” was one of the supporters of the rally.

In a press release, the motivation behind the rally was to “bring attention to a solution for this issue. The proposed solution is to allow the valuable market for wood waste in Massachusetts to thrive by ending the moratorium on the review of permit applications for facilities which use construction and demolition materials as fuel for energy generation.”

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