Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lost opportunity: City Council fails to act on incinerator

Tonight, Springfield MA City Council had an opportunity to really take a positive step to protect Springfield's environment-- and they didn't.  Well, I shouldn't say they; in the end it came down to Councilor Rooke's refusal to suspend the rules so that the council could vote on asking the state for a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on a biomass incinerator proposed for our city. 

My blood is still boiling, so let me see if I can summarize the sequence of events.

We, members of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield,  know that the plant's proponents have to come back before City Council for approval of their amended permit.  We don't know when that will happen, but figure soon, as they have strong financial incentive to break ground before December 31.  So we signed up for the speak-out at tonight's council meeting, as part of our strategy to win a majority of councilors over to our position.

Coincidentally, tomorrow at 5 pm. is the deadline for commenting on the incinerator's plan to the state, and for requesting  a full EIR.

Meanwhile, some ward councilors-- Mike Fenton, E. Henry Twiggs and Melvin Edwards-- agreed to co-sponsor a resolution asking the City Council to hold a public hearing, in conjunction with the Springfield Public Health Council,  about the health impacts of Palmer Renewable Energy's (PRE) proposed plant.  But Counciklor Fenton let us know that he was unable to meet the deadline for getting the resolution on tonight's agenda.  Well, OK, there's still next month.

Then we got an email from At-Large Councilor Thomas Ashe, saying he intended to propose two resolutions tonight, one of which would call for a full EIR.  Even though it was past the agenda deadline, he could do so by asking for a suspension of the rules to bring the resolution.  However, if challenged by even one councilor, the resolution could not proceed.

A dozen of us spoke at the speak-out that precedes the formal meeting.  The two most difficult councilors to engage, Councilor Rooke and Councilor Kateri Walsh, didn't come in for the speak-out so they missed everything we had to say, including a couple of announcements about the EIR deadline.

Next came a long, frustrating and fascinating council meeting.  Ah, the personalities!  The politics!  Enough said.

Finally, after all council business was finished-- 10 pm.!-- Councilor Ashe stood up and asked for a suspension of the rules for the EIR resolutuion.  Then Councilor Rooke stood up, and said that he was actually co-sponsoring Ashe's resolution, but that he had just, five minutes before the council meeting began, received a copy of a report from City Attorney Ed Pikula.  In that report, it said that PRE was not legally required to have an EIR done.  Therefore, he wanted time to digest the report before he went forward.  the motion was defeated and the council was adjourned.

First I got to Tom Ashe, who said to me, "Don't worry, we'll get it on next month's agenda."

"You can't get it on next month's agenda, not this resolution anyway, because the deadline for comments is tomorrow."  he looked taken aback.  (Of course he can submit a different resolution next month, but, as I say, a lost opportunity.)

Then Jesse Lederman and I got Councilor Rooke's attention.   He tried to explain that he (and other councilors) had just gotten a report on PRE's plan,  (commissioned by the city from some environmental firm and paid for by PRE) and that it said, right there in the report, that PRE wasn't legally required to have an EIR.

Well, of course an EIR is not required; if it was, we wouldn't be asking for one, would we?

"I can't decide on this in five minutes," Councilor Rooke said.

"Well, that didn't stop you the first time PRE came to the council," I said, being pissier than I should, but just SO frustrated.  Of course, Councilor Rooke had missed my presentation at the speak-out, where I mentioned our group had watched a video of the city council meeting where PRE got their first permit from the city.  At that hearing, former Councilor Mazza-Moriarty had tried to slow things down, mentioning that she'd only gotten a copy of a hundred page document 45 minutes before the meeting.  She'd tried to send it to committee, where practically everything goes, but was voted down.

So, what next?  On to the next strategy.  That's what people committed to the community do.  And if I look at the situation objectively, we're probably not in bad shape.

Plusses: We now have ten of thirteen councilors who have expressed some form of opposition to PRE's incinerator.  I didn't say anything irredeemable to Councilor Rooke or any other councilor. And clearly, as we say in community organizing, we have raised the profile of the issue.

Minuses: PRE hasn't made their presentation to the council yet, and they'll certainly downplay the health impacts of the plant while dangling jobs and taxes; councilors could be swayed.  Some councilors are not yet as well-educated as they need to be, not only about the issue but also the approval process.  And we have no idea what's in the city's report and how thorough and objective it is.  (They only had about a week to analyze a 388 page document, and I don't know if the firm had the previous permit application with which to compare the new.) 

OK, that's it, I'm tired, and tomorrow is another day.

Photo from IHeartGreatBeer's photostream at Flickr.

1 comment:

peacesojourner said...

Keep up the good work - and don't let the b.......
get you down.