Editorial: The right to live without environmental pollution

  • AP

Published: 6/21/2019 10:58:30 PM
Modified: 6/21/2019 10:58:16 PM

Our region has historically been a leader in the fight against climate change.
In 2015, for example, Greenfield passed the state’s first local biomass ordinance, strictly regulating (and in some cases banning altogether) large-scale wood-burning power plants and other waste-to-energy plants from being constructed within city limits.

The only allowable fuels under the ordinance, which followed a statewide green-energy initiative, are clean, dry wood and clean wood pellets and chips. Garbage, tires, lawn clippings and leaves, asbestos, lead, mercury, plastic, chemicals, coal, glossy and colored paper, paints and paint thinners, construction materials, manure, asphalt products and more are prohibited.

Proponents including the local chapter of the American Lung Association praised the effort as a positive step toward improving the health of Franklin County’s people and its environment. When it was passed, then At-large Town Councilor Patrick Devlin said, “All people have the right to live without environmental pollution.”

We agree. As the region’s newspaper of record, we stand with its people.

That’s why we’re concerned about the Baker Administration’s efforts to roll back the state’s environmentally conscious energy regulations and jump-start its biomass fuels industry.

Earlier this year, a number of biomass-burning facilities were recipients of $3 million in state funding awarded by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration through the Renewable Thermal Infrastructure Grant Program, an initiative focused on expanding the availability of renewable thermal technologies. Following that, the state Department of Energy Resources proposed changes to its Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), which dictates what type of energy companies can receive government subsidies. The changes would rewrite the restrictions, allowing large wood-burning power plants to receive government funding.

The state needs more green-energy initiatives. Promoting biomass fuels is not the answer — an opinion historically shared by the state’s leaders.

About a decade ago, former Gov. Deval Patrick commissioned a scientific study that found biomass-burning plants could undermine the state’s emission-reduction goals. From those findings, the Patrick Administration enacted the current regulations, limiting subsidies given out to biomass businesses and restricting commercially produced biomass energy to small, highly efficient plants. Notably, Patrick’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard was one of the first programs in the nation that required a certain percentage of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy. This is the type of action that’s required to face down climate change.

The Baker Administration’s proposed changes could undermine these efforts.

We’re not the only ones who feel this way. In response to a public outcry about the changes from activists and lawmakers including Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, the state’s energy resources office extended the regulation’s public comment period from May until the end of July. We encourage our readers to write to their legislators and engage in this important discussion.

The policies we allow to pass now will dictate the future of our region and planet.


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