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The Biomass Monitor

The Biomass Monitor monthly newsletter is the nation's leading publication tracking the health and environmental impacts of biomass energy.

Latest Issue: The Biomass Industry's Wildfire Scapegoat (August 2014)

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A publication of Energy Justice Network, Florida Environmental Justice Network, and Florida League of Conservation Voters

Editors: Josh Schlossberg, Mike Ewall, and Samantha Chirillo

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Oregon Group Files Civil Rights Complaint Over Biomass Air Pollution

- by Lisa Arkin, August 6, 2014, Beyond Toxics
 
On August 6, Beyond Toxics filed a civil rights and environmental justice complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the Lane County Regional Air Protection Agency’s decision to allow a power plant to increase its discharges of hazardous particulate matter. The complaint alleges that allowing Seneca Sustainable Energy to increase pollution discharges disproportionately impacts the health of minority and low-income residents of West Eugene. The complaint requests that U.S. EPA’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) invalidate the decision to increase pollutant discharges.
 
Seneca Sustainable Energy’s plant emits fine particulate matter, which is highly dangerous to human health. Exposure to fine particles can affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease, and increase the risk of premature death. Children’s asthma rates in the West Eugene area are almost twice the state average.
 
Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are disproportionately likely to be minority and low-income (in comparison with other areas of Eugene). The nearby neighborhoods (Bethel-Danebo, Trainsong, and parts of River Road) are also overburdened with industrial pollution, making these residents disproportionately likely to suffer from health effects such as asthma.

Energy Justice Summer: Standing With Communities in the Shalefields

 
This summer youth have gathered in the shale gas region of Northeastern Pennsylvania to facilitate trainings, compile reports, and to fight for the safety of landowners, workers, and the environment.
 
Energy Justice Summer is based in Susquehanna County in order to directly connect with the community members impacted by shale gas development. The program consists of three working teams: research, education and outreach, and community organizing.
 
Charlotte Lewis, a research team member, Scranton native and student at Lackawanna College said, “Rural communities in Pennsylvania are changing from farmland to gas land. When this source of energy is depleted, what industry will we have left to sustain us?”
 
Lewis and her team members have drafted a socioeconomic impact report focusing on poverty indicators and the decline of farm-related income in rural counties with high-volume drilling.
 
The preliminary findings, based on data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, show that counties free of shale gas wells that use at least 15 percent of their acreage as operating farms earned 13.5 percent more from their commodity sales per farm than those in counties with over 100 wells drilled.
 
The report also explores the rise of free and reduced school lunch eligibility in school districts with high density drilling. For example, according to the PA Department of Education, 5 out of 6 school districts in Susquehanna County have seen an increase in eligibility in the past five years; at the same time, over 950 shale gas wells have been drilled.
 
Another series of reports created by the research team includes the history of environmental violations committed by Shell, a international crude oil & gas company. This will be followed by two more reports focusing on Cabot Oil & Gas, and Chesapeake Energy.
 
Sarita Farnelli, education and outreach team member, and a student who grew up in Dimock, PA said, “Fracking made my family's water undrinkable. I'm still afraid to drink our tap water.”
 
Events hosted by the education and outreach team have included a free water quality monitoring workshop in collaboration with the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring at Dickinson College at Salt Springs State Park. In addition, trainings on environmental violations analysis, regulatory appeals, and community organizing.
 
On top of scheduling workshops in Susquehanna County, the community organizing team has worked with residents of Milford Township, PA to halt the compressor station planned for NiSource's East Side Expansion Project. The 9,400 horsepower compressor would connect the Tennessee and Columbia pipelines and is proposed to be built in the vicinity of local homes, schools, and senior centers—despite the threat of respiratory diseases or cancer contributed by venting emissions.
 
When the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to schedule a hearing to answer questions and concerns of local community members, Energy Justice Summer and Clean Air Council teamed up to hold a public hearing on July 9th at the Pike County Public Library in Milford. As a result of this successful meeting, the DEP planned a hearing at 7 pm. on August 18th, at the Delaware Valley High School in Westfall Township.
 
The organizing team has also directed their energy to the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. The Williams Company Inc. extension would connect to the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas export terminal and will cross new territory in Susquehanna, Wyoming, Columbia, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Lebanon, Lancaster, Clinton and Luzerne counties.
 
Energy Justice Summer Fellows have met with landowners on the pipeline route to distribute information about the FERC regulatory process and landowner rights. The team is scheduling follow-up landowners' meetings in September with residents who may lose building lots, fruit trees, sugar maple groves, timber sales, and pasture land if the pipeline is approved.
 
Spencer Johnson, from Lancaster, PA, writer, and graduate of Franklin and Marshall College said, “There are a lot of stories and articles about fracking, but to be here on the frontlines, to be in it...the people we are working with are our friends, we want our friends to be protected.”
 
Johnson has written a series of stories based on the testimonials from residents whose health and livelihood have been effected by unconventional shale gas infrastructure, in collaboration with a professional photographer and videographer, Max Grudzinski and Crystal Vander Weit. An interactive web project featuring the stories, photos, and videos of Johnson's team is currently being designed.
 
The team of Energy Justice Summer also includes: Adam Hasz, Alex Lotorto, Allison Petryk, Collin Rees, and Maria Langholz. Energy Justice Summer is a joint project between Energy Justice Network and SustainUs. Energy Justice Network is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources to grassroots organizing groups battling environmental degradation throughout the nation. SustainUS is an internationally-networked nonprofit organization dedicated to offering tools of social and environmental justice to further young peoples' goals toward sustainable development.

Springfield, MA Biomass Incinerator Permit Reinstated

- by Suzanne McLaughlin, August 20, 2014, MassLive

Massachusetts Land Court has granted Palmer Renewable Energy’s request to reinstate its building permit for a biomass wood-burning plant in East Springfield, undoing the Springfield Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision that the building permit was invalid.

The decision states that no special permit is needed and the building permit is reinstated, City Solicitor Edward Pikula said. Pikula said he is still reviewing the decision.

Palmer Renewable Energy proposed building a 35-megawatt, wood-to-energy plant on the grounds of Palmer Paving Co. property near the intersection of Page Boulevard and Cadwell Drive.

August issue of The Biomass Monitor: "The Biomass Industry's Wildfire Scapegoat"

Hot off the presses: the August issue of The Biomass Monitor, the nation's leading publication tracking the health and environmental impacts of "biomass" energy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Please share the August 2014 issue of The Biomass Monitor with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, media, and elected officials!
 
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Beetle-Kill Fuels Bioenergy

- by Kelly Hatton, July 17, 2014, Western Confluence

On a morning in early March, I ride with Cody Neff, owner of West Range Reclamation (WRR), in his truck from Frisco, Colorado, to the company’s nearby worksite in the White River National Forest. Light is just starting to reach over the high snow-covered slopes surrounding Frisco, but Neff is awake and ready to talk. He tells me that originally it was a love of cattle, not forests, that brought him west to the University of Wyoming, where he studied rangeland ecology while raising beef on a piece of leased land outside Laramie. Now, fifteen years later, he’s running a fifty-employee company and supervising forestry projects on Colorado’s Front Range and in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest. It’s a position he didn’t necessarily imagine for himself, but one that he has taken on with enthusiasm.

Neff and wife, Stephanie—who Neff credits for his success—started WRR in 2001. They saw a need for what Neff calls responsible and beneficial rangeland and forest management.

From behind the steering wheel, Neff interrupts himself to point out areas on the slopes where the company has completed projects. As he steers up the rough road, he takes phone calls, fields questions, and jots notes for himself on the pad of paper nested in the truck’s console.

When we turn off the main highway and bump slowly along the temporary dirt road that winds up the mountain, Neff points out tightly packed, small-diameter lodgepole pine as illustrative of the problems of this forest. The stands of thin trees are all the same species, the same age, and all are competing for the same resources, susceptible to the same pests. These stands are an easy target for bark beetles. Out the passenger window, I see the impact. Dead trees stand like skeletons among the green.

At the road’s end, the forest opens into a clearing where a fleet of machinery cuts, hauls, and chips trees marked by the Forest Service for removal. Neff hands me a hardhat and a neon vest to put on before we walk over to the semi parked on the edge of the clearing.

From Beetle Kill to Biomass

[More industry propaganda than a news article, but it demonstrates the biomass industry's  lust for National Forests to feed their dirty incinerators. -Ed.]

- by Ruth Heide, July 22, 2014, Valley Courier

There’s a different kind of “gold” in “them thar hills.”

It’s in the trees themselves.

Correctly harvested, the beetle kill timber that exists on public and private lands in the San Luis Valley could provide a gold mine for the biomass and other lumber industries while at the same time improving forest health.

Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas told SLV County Commissioners Association officials yesterday there’s half-a-million acres of primarily spruce and fir in the Rio Grande National Forest alone that could be culled out. He said he has been trying to get something going to get rid of the dead trees during his entire tenure here, but it took columns of smoke that could be seen from Nebraska last year to really get people’s attention.

Tulsa, OK Chooses Incineration Over Composting

- by Jarrel Wade, August 6, 2014, Tulsa World

Trash board members voted Tuesday to begin the process of seeking bids for contractors to pick up curbside green waste and take it to the city’s burn plant.

The recently introduced plan from the Tulsa Authority for Recovery of Energy is to send green waste to the city’s burn plant permanently, essentially ending Tulsa’s curbside green-waste program as it was originally promised.

The TARE board vote authorizes staff to invite bids from contractors for board evaluation and possible acceptance at future meetings.

The vote followed discussion about several contractual obligations that hindered implementation of the new plan.

TARE officials have said their goals are to keep costs low, keep the system environmentally responsible and make the trash system simple for customers.

One problem is that the city would be forced to continue requiring that green waste be put in clear plastic bags even though it likely would go in the same trucks to the same location as trash.

The contract with the city’s haulers, NeWSolutions, requires that green waste be in a separate waste stream, TARE attorney Stephen Schuller said.

“Competitive bidders could bring a lawsuit on such a fundamental change,” he said.

Another problem discussed was TARE’s inability to seek bids for contractors to take the green waste to the city’s green-waste facility, which some board members had requested for price comparison.

Schuller said a contract between the board and the burn plant mandates that all green waste — if taken by a TARE contractor — go to the burn plant, owned by Covanta Energy.

Covanta Incineration Deal Discourages Rival Recycling Programs

- Kathleen McLaughlin, August 4, 2014, Indianapolis Business Journal

The city of Indianapolis faces financial penalties if it launches alternative recycling programs, under a pending deal with incinerator operator Covanta.

The Indianapolis Board of Public Works will vote Wednesday on an agreement that’s worth more than $112 million in revenue to Covanta, which would become the city’s main residential recycling provider for the next 14 years.

Covanta is proposing to build a $45 million recycling facility next to its incinerator on Harding Street. Under the deal negotiated by Republican Mayor Greg Ballard's administration, the city would continue to send all household waste to Covanta, but the company would pluck out recyclables and sell them on the commodities market.

Companies that rely on recycled goods oppose the deal because they say Covanta’s facility would generate sub-par material for their industries. But the Department of Public Works says it’s a way to boost the city’s overall recycling rate without requiring residents to sign up for a separate curbside service.

Curbside recycling is currently available for an additional monthly fee through Republic Services, but participation is low.

Democrats on the City-County Council want the city to pursue other alternatives, but that would be impossible under terms of the Covanta deal, which were made available to the Board of Public Works on Friday.

Proposed Incinerator a Bad Choice for Island

- Linda Damas Kelley, August 6, 2014, West Hawaii Today

Just having returned from a monthlong mainland trip, I found that the waste-to-energy controversy has reached a boiling point. I just read recent commentaries by Hunter Bishop and Nelson Ho; like them, I too worked for the Department of Environmental Management during the Mayor Harry Kim administration. If nothing has changed in the incineration world, why are we even having this conversation? In case anyone forgot, the County of Hawaii has a standing Zero Waste Resolution adopted in 2007. A previous County Council voted down incineration because of its forever money-sucking maintenance issues.

So, why is our mayor, if he truly loves the Big Island, insisting on shoving an incinerator down our throats?

USDA Funds Genetic Engineering Research for Switchgrass Biofuels

-  July 24, 2014, Farmers’ Advance

Michigan State University (MSU) plant biologist C. Robin Buell has been awarded $1 million from a joint U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program to accelerate genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstock for the production of biofuels, bio-power and bio-based products.

Specifically, the MSU College of Natural Science researcher will work to identify the genetic factors that regulate cold hardiness in switchgrass, a plant native to North America that holds high potential as a biofuel source.

"This project will explore the genetic basis for cold tolerance that will permit the breeding of improved switchgrass cultivars that can yield higher biomass in northern climates," said Buell, also an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. "It's part of an ongoing collaboration with scientists in the USDA Agricultural Research Service to explore diversity in native switchgrass as a way to improve its yield and quality as a biofuel feedstock."

One of the proposed methods to increase the biomass of switchgrass, and therefore its utility as a biofuel, is to grow lowland varieties in northern latitudes, where they flower later in the season.