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My Turn: Biomass or biomess?

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Many Recorder readers may remember the struggle for strong biomass regulations that grew out of grassroots efforts to shut down a biomass plant in Greenfield in 2013. That effort led to the strictest standards in the nation known as the Massachusetts’ Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

Today the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources is attempting to weaken those biomass regulations for heat generation that will result in dirty biomass boilers to be built in Franklin County and communities across the state. Some special interests in Massachusetts are attempting to adopt new regulations that will give “clean energy” credits to polluting burn technologies such as biomass and garbage incineration as if they are clean, renewable technologies like solar, wind and geothermal heat which they most certainly are not. I call this scheme the Son of Biomass in reference to monster movie sequels from the past.

Such an ill-advised scheme will increase carbon pollution in our county and across the state and add to the already growing climate crisis. It will seriously harm public health and degrade and destroy forests and forest soils in Massachusetts and across New England while making Massachusetts ratepayers foot the bill for what may well lead to a massive export industry. Given we are now well into the scientifically proven climate crisis and don’t have the luxury of waiting 75 to 100 years or so for destroyed CO2 capturing forests and forest soils to regain all the carbon lost during destructive logging, large scale wood biomass is decidedly NOT “renewable.”

Sadly, one doesn’t have to look as far as Beacon Hill to find those who seek to undermine the work we have done to keep the Son of Biomass at bay. The Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), an agency headquartered in Greenfield many of us support and value for their good work, has embraced big biomass as part of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership whose plan includes the promotion of large-scale biomass burn technology. I’m not talking about home wood stoves here, but rather large scale pellet or chip incinerators installed in schools and public buildings. These big biomass units and their associated ills have been condemned by large mainstream public interest groups like the American Lung Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council for their harmful effects on human and forest health. I find it difficult to fathom how an agency that was deeply critical of the disastrous proposed Kinder Morgan fracked gas pipeline could now be promoting dangerous and dirty large-scale biomass here in Massachusetts.

While FRCOG continues to do good work on extreme climate event adaptation and resilience, they should stop acting like climate change deniers. FRCOG refuses to acknowledge the connection between planning for and promoting the chopping down and burning our local forests for dirty energy and the impact this will have on climate change. It is the wrong way to go. Local forest owners need incentives to keep forests intact sequestering carbon, not chopping them down and worsening CO2 pollution.

Don Ogden of Leverett is the producer and co-host of The Enviro Show on WMCB and a longtime environmental writer and activist. He is author of the book “Bad Atmosphere - A Collection of Poetry & Prose on the Climate Crisis.”