Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Biomass backstabbing-- citizens being sold down the river (but we're still swimming upstream)

To be blunt, this has not been a good week for biomass opponents and the residents of Springfield.   At Monday night's city council meeting, we expected councilors to authorize themselves to appeal the building permits issued to Palmer Renewable Energy for construction of a biomass plant.  Instead,  an obviously choreographed effort   between city solicitor Ed Pikula and Councilors Walsh, Ferrera and Rooke paved the way for Walsh to introduce rule 20, bringing the proceedings to an abrupt halt.   Western Mass. Politics and Insight   has an excellent blow-by-blow description of the evening's farce.

"Don't worry, we'll fix this on Monday," Councilor Mike Fenton told us, and I believe that he and the other nine councilors who also appose this biomass plant will prevail,  but it gives the council less time to file an appeal-- the deadline is December 15.

We've had some members researching campaign contributions from PRE's owners, family members and attorney, but the Valley Advocate summed it up nicely for us before we could finish. From the Callahan family:
  • Jimmy Ferrera: $1,400
  • Bud Williams: $1,400
  • Kateri Walsh: $1,250
  • Tim Rooke: $750
 From Callahan's attorney, Frank Fitzgerald:
  • Walsh: $500
  • Ferrera: $350
  • Rooke:  $250
  • Williams $250
 Now, do I think a councilor's vote can be bought so cheaply?  Possibly.....but what I actually suspect is that there were far more substantial offers of assistance, financial and otherwise, made to city councilors by PRE this year, which will never appear in a list of campaign contributions.  I suspect that that if city councilors revealed the extent to which they have been lobbied and cajoled, we would be shocked. 

But what I absolutely believe is that no city councilor should accept a financial contribution from any person who has business before the council and who would benefit financially from a council decision.

Second piece of bad news: just today, DEP handed down a "recommended" decision about our air permit appeal, basically saying that citizens have no "standing" to appeal a DEP-issued permit!  On the advice of attorneys, I'm not going to comment on our legal strategies at this point in time (except to say we still have plenty!), especially as the decision is not final until approved by DEP Commissioner Ken Kimmel.  Our press release is below.  

I do, however, want people to think about the ramifications of this decision if it is upheld.  Clearly, DEP would not apply this decision only to PRE opponents, or only to those appealing air permits.   Think about it.  And we'll talk more later.


Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution Says
No One Other than Developer Can Raise Administrative Challenges to
Power Plant Air Permits – Not Even Affected Residents

BOSTON, MA  November 30, 2011 – Conservation Law Foundation, Arise for Social Justice, and Toxics Action Center today issued the following joint statement in response to the Massachusetts DEP’s recommended final decision on the air permit appeal for Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass-fueled Power Plant in Springfield, MA.

“This decision, if adopted, would change the rules so as to prevent affected members of the public from participating in administrative appeals of air permits. It also would undermine the state’s clean energy agenda. The recommended decision, which does not address the substance of the petitioners’ claims, essentially says that no one other than the developer has the right to raise administrative challenges to power plant air permits – not even people already suffering from severe respiratory illness, nor people suffering from disproportionate air pollution burdens. We look to DEP Commissioner Kimmel to reject the recommended decision and preserve the right of Massachusetts residents to have a voice in decisions that affect their health.”

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
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