Springfield residents as well as public health and environmental advocates are breathing a big sigh of relief in the 12-year battle over a proposed biomass plant in Springfield. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently revoked a key air permit for the controversial plant that was initially issued nearly 9 years ago.  

If constructed, the plant would have burned about 1,200 tons of waste wood a day in East Springfield. Among the community leaders who voiced strong opposition to the proposal was City Councilor Jesse Lederman. Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel sat down with Lederman to get his reaction to the DEP’s decision and what it means for the city. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Springfield residents, as well as public health and environmental advocates are breathing a big sigh of relief in the 12 year battle over a proposed biomass plant in Springfield.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently revoked a key air permit for the controversial plant that was initially issued nearly nine years ago. If constructed, the plant would have burned about twelve hundred tons of waste wood a day in East Springfield.

And among the community leaders who voiced strong opposition to the proposal was City Councilor Jesse Lederman. Connecting Point’s Ray Hersehel sat down with Lederman to get his reaction to the DEP’s decision and what it means for the city.

Jesse Lederman, Springfield City Councilor: Well, it was certainly welcome news in the city of Springfield to hear that the Department of Environmental Protection had taken that step. This is a concern that has been raised for over a decade here in the city of Springfield by residents, by community organizations, really because of the state of environmental air quality and public health here in the city.

And just the feeling that we needed to see more oversight and protection by the state for communities like ours. So, the news was welcome news here in the city of Springfield.

Ray Hershel, Connecting Point: And as you mentioned, this battle has been going on for over a decade now. I think final approval for the project was even given back in 2012, if I’m not mistaken.

What transpired? What was the determining factor in DEP’s revoking the license that originally had been approved for the project?

Jesse Lederman: You know, Ray, I think this is really a story of community action and perseverance. If you look at the state of these types of regulations 10 years ago, they were in a very different place.

Ten years ago, with regard to these air permits, there was very little consideration given to the concept of environmental justice. And when I say environmental justice, I’m talking about the fact that for generations, cities like Springfield have been targeted by polluters and we have really seen, unfortunately, polluters be rubber stamped in our communities for generations, which has led to the very real and very concerning health disparities.

But the difference is that in those intervening years, the community has really come together and demanded that more action be taken and more protections be put in place, which has resulted in the environmental justice policy that now exists for state agencies, and also with the passage of the recent Massachusetts climate bill, the solidification of environmental justice considerations for these types of incinerators in Massachusetts law.

Ray Hershel: I was going to ask you about the the opposition that was generated really from the start of this controversial project and how it grew over the years.

This was a grassroots opposition effort, was it not, in terms of getting the community involved? And can you talk about the individuals and groups that were involved in the opposition of this plant?

Jesse Lederman: You’re absolutely correct. This campaign that has the city of Springfield has seen in the last 10 years, really represented an unprecedented grassroots mobilization and an unprecedented collaboration with local, state and federal officials and regulators.

I remember a DEP hearing at Duggan Middle School that was three to four hundred people coming out to raise their concerns about the potential impact of that incinerator. And really since then, that that movement and that that organization of grassroots residents and activists has really continued to grow.

Ray Hershel: Statistically, I think something like one in five children in Springfield has asthma problems. In terms of the air quality and what this is going to mean in as far as public health goes, the health of young people in the city, what what does this revocation mean in terms of its impact?

Jesse Lederman: One of the primary concerns that’s been raised from the beginning was the asthma rate, not just in the city of Springfield, but also in surrounding communities. Some of the highest in the Commonwealth, and as a matter of fact, in recent years or the last several years, we have seen statistically that this metropolitan region, so sort of greater Springfield, has been named the asthma capital of the country. And that is because of not only the asthma rates, but also the number of E.R. visits that we see associated with asthmatic attacks, which also speaks to access to health care resources.

And so, what has been raised historically is the concern of further degrading air quality in our community. But I think what this message that DEP is sending is one that I had long championed, which is to say that the days of polluters being rubber stamped in cities like Springfield is over and those days must be over if we’re going to continue to improve air quality and health outcomes

Ray Hershel: Council Lederman, now that the the permit has been revoked by the state, what about the future of the property itself in East Springfield? What happens next there on that site?

Jesse Lederman: Well, you know, at this time, certainly there’s always been another operation operating there, a paving company. And then in terms of this project, certainly we — it will remain to be seen.

The City Council on the local side has raised an appeal with the zoning board in the city of Springfield relative to the status of the building permit for this project. There is obviously the state permitting process, but there’s also the local permitting process, and so will be before the zoning board representing our concerns in that regard later this month. And also, there continues to be, unfortunately, a movement at the state level to administer clean energy funds for biomass incineration, not necessarily specific to this project, but it is one that that I am opposed to and that the city council has passed resolutions against because we don’t want to see increased pollution anywhere in our Commonwealth.

And we certainly do not want to see ratepayers dollars, that are paid for by the people of Springfield in the Commonwealth, we do not want to see those ratepayers dollars that are meant to increase a truly clean and renewable energy sources in the Commonwealth. We don’t want to see those sort of inadvertently or inappropriately routed towards biomass incineration anywhere in the Commonwealth.

When this first started, this was a proposal actually originally to burn construction and demolition debris in the city of Springfield. And that is now illegal in the city of Springfield, to burn construction and demolition debris because of legislation that we passed at the Springfield City Council and because of a statewide moratorium that was put on that. So, we know that sometimes the policy lags behind the science and it’s our job to go out there and advocate for those policy changes.