Are Dirty Energy Opponents NIMBY? Proving Industry Wrong

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

It’s typical for energy developers facing community resistance to proposed facilities to try to discredit opponents by calling them NIMBY (Not in My Backyard), steering the argument away from health and environmental impacts to simply one of aesthetics. Corporate profiteers argue that local opposition doesn’t have a problem with a given energy technology itself — so long as they don’t have to look at it.  

So, how far are dirty energy opportunists off base when they toss the NIMBY label around in an attempt to sway public opinion and influence government policy in regards to their pollution factories?

Industry Labels

Public Strategy Group’s focus is to give its corporate clients — including nuclear, bioenergy and natural gas corporations, along with offshore investment companies and Wal-Mart — “strategic advantage over their opponents in the public” and government by “countering community opposition.”

Company President Al Maiorino claims that “opponents may favor clean energy, however they don’t want it located anywhere they can see it.” Industry’s main talking point is that members of the public don’t actually have a problem with the concept of a biomass incinerator or natural gas-fired facility, simply its location.

Incinerators have such a stigma associated with them that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of NIMBY actually includes a specific mention, as “opposition to the locating of something considered undesirable (as a prison or incinerator) in one's neighborhood.”  A community is only NIMBY if it fights the siting of a facility without articulating a complete rejection of that form of energy.

In the case of mountain top coal removal, we frequently see public blowback at the site of extraction in Appalachia, along the thousands of miles of transportation routes across the country, and at the coal-fired power facilities themselves. This far-reaching opposition, from the source to the burners, has also recently popped up in regards to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas. The end result is that the fossil fuel industry faces conflict wherever it turns.

More often than not, with some notable exceptions, the anti-fossil fuels movement tends to defy industry’s NIMBY slur by giving a thumbs down to the use of that dirty energy source entirely, no matter where it’s located.

Think Locally, Act Locally?

While fossil fuel opponents typically employ a local, regional, and national strategy, the majority of resistance to biomass energy occurs at the facility level only — due, in part, to communities simply having a limited amount of time and resources to expend.

However, on many occasions, communities fighting a proposed biomass incinerator have made the case that “biomass isn’t right” for their town — implicitly (and in some cases, explicitly) suggesting that another area would be better suited for the facility. In some cases, communities have successfully chased an incinerator developer out of town, only to have them set up shop in a poorer community a few dozen miles down the road, bringing up environmental justice concerns. 

So, what makes the biomass fight different from, say, other types of dirty energy resistance?

First, unlike concentrated deposits of uranium or natural gas located only in specific regions around the country, biomass fuel — forests, trash, crops, manure or other organic materials — is more plentiful and typically found within a hundred miles or less of a facility (except in the case of  wood pellet exports to Europe and Asia). The relative abundance of forests and other biomass fuels means transportation routes aren’t as long and can go by truck over existing roadways, so they don’t generate the sort of opposition that comes where new rail lines or pipelines are required. 

Second, unlike mining or drilling for energy-dense coal or oil, the sheer number of trees needed to feed a biomass incinerator requires thousands of acres of isolated forest stands spread out over the landscape. This lack of one or a few large, central extraction locations makes it tricky to launch on-the-ground monitoring and publicize environmental impacts.

Third, biomass opposition does not enjoy the massive foundation funding that goes to fighting fossil fuels, so the movement is far more grassroots — without as heavy a presence of Big Greens facilitating opposition where it might not form organically.

Whatever the reasons, when dirty energy opponents focus exclusively on stopping the construction of a facility in their town without tying into a nation-wide movement, they lend credibility to industry’s NIMBY label — diluting the health and environmental arguments against the polluting energy source itself.

Weakness as Strength

The far-flung nature of forests is both the main reason why biomass energy opposition tends to be so localized and is also a great opportunity for national solidarity.

More and more, the biomass industry has been setting its sights on public lands — National Forests and Bureau of Land Management tracts — to feed their incinerators. Inflaming fears of wildfire and insects, the biomass industry has teamed up with Big Timber and vote-hungry politicians to demand a rapid uptick in logging on public lands owned by all Americans. 2003’s Orwellian Healthy Forest Restoration Act and more recently Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) Senate Bill S.1784 and Senate Bill S.1301 seek to get out the cut by insisting that, counter to sound science and common sense, the only way to “save” forests is to log them.

Perhaps, once Americans realize that the millions of acres of oxygen-producing, carbon-sequestering forests to be chipped and burned for smokestack energy are under their control, they will understand the importance of snuffing out biomass incineration nation-wide. One such response to public lands protection, the Act to Save America’s Forests, has enjoyed bi-partisan support from over 140 members of Congress and been introduced into both the Senate and House of the U.S. Congress for over a decade.

From NIMBY to NOPE

Fighting facilities at a local level is the foundation of dirty energy resistance. But, without tying into a national framework, such as the Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign, the smokestack industry will simply keep playing its game of musical chairs, siting facilities in the poorest towns and/or communities of color.

Pushback to a dirty energy facility, be it a biomass incinerator or “clean” coal-fired burner, needs to be accompanied by disapproval of its siting anywhere else, condemnation of all forms of its technology, and refusal to endorse a dirty energy “alternative.”

Anything less than national anti-dirty energy solidarity negates the genuine concerns of harmful health, climate, and ecosystem impacts from smokestack energy by lending credence to industry’s NIMBY name-calling. The day that dirty energy opponents finally close their ranks in unity, the pollution pushers will have nowhere left to run.

EPA Proposal Classifies Wood Fuel from Construction, Demolition

[Biomass industry pushing for even less regulation of their dirtiest fuel source. -Ed.]

- by Erin Voegele, March 27, 2014. Source: Biomass Magazine

On March 27, the U.S. EPA released a proposed rule to amend its Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials regulation under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The NHSM rule was finalized in February 2013 and establishes standards and procedures for identifying whether non-hazardous secondary materials are solid wastes when used as fuels or ingredients in combustion units.

Information published by the EPA explains that if a material is classified as solid waste under RRA, a combustion unit burning it must meet Clean Air Act section 129 emission standards for solid waste incineration units. Alternatively, if the material is not considered a solid waste, combustion units that burn it are required to meet the CAA section 112 emission standards for commercial, industrial and institutional boilers.

Nippon Temporarily Shut Down Because of Biomass Fuel Problems at Power Plant

- by Paul Gottlieb, February 27, 2014. Source: Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Fuel-system problems with Nippon Paper Industries USA’s newly expanded biomass cogeneration plant have caused a two-week shutdown of the mill, according to a union official.

Darrel Reetz, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers Local 155, said Thursday he is confident the plant will be up and running again by about March 9.

“We are having some issues that need to be fixed on the fuel system,” Reetz said.

Whole Trees 90% of Rothschild, WI Biomass Incinerator Fuel

- by Kevin Murphy, February 26, 2014. Source: Wasau Daily Herald

The recently built power plant at Domtar paper mill is getting only 10 percent of its fuel from logging waste, which originally was supposed to supply nearly all of the plant’s energy needs.

The 50-megawatt, $255 million power plant went online in November to provide steam for Domtar’s paper operations and a clean source of power for WE Energies. The plant will burn 500,000 tons of biomass annually, said Cathy Schulze, a WE Energies spokeswoman.

DTE Energy: Black Soot Irks Residents of Cassville, Wisconsin

- by Jeff Montgomery, March 22, 2014. Source: THOnline.com

CASSVILLE, Wis. - Linda Hulst said she began noticing the soot shortly after a nearby biomass plant started operations.

For three years, the black, charcoal-like matter has sprinkled her property. "Every fresh snow is covered with it," she said. "It gets on our deck, on our furniture, on the hoods of our cars."

Hulst and her husband, Ron, have owned and operated Eagles Roost Resort since 1977. They also make their home on the property, 1034 Jack Oak Road.

Hulst said she is certain that the soot-like substance results from processes occurring at DTE Energy's Stoneman Station biomass plant, 716 Jack Oak Road.

State Allowed Logging on Plateau Above Slope of Washington Mudslide

- by Mike Baker, Ken Armstrong, and Hal Bernton, March 25, 2014. Source: The Seattle Times

The plateau above the soggy hillside that gave way Saturday has been logged for almost a century, with hundreds of acres of softwoods cut and hauled away, according to state records.

But in recent decades, as the slope has become more unstable, scientists have increasingly challenged the timber harvests, with some even warning of possible calamity.

The state has continued to allow logging on the plateau, although it has imposed restrictions at least twice since the 1980s. The remnant of one clear-cut operation is visible in aerial photographs of Saturday’s monstrous mudslide. A triangle — 7½ acres, the shape of a pie slice — can be seen atop the destruction, its tip just cutting into where the hill collapsed.

Multiple factors can contribute to a slide.

With the hill that caved in over the weekend, geologists have pointed to the Stillaguamish River’s erosion of the hill’s base, or toe.

But logging can also play a role in instigating or intensifying a slide, by increasing the amount of water seeping into an unstable zone, according to an analysis of the watershed submitted to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Some Biofuel Feedstock Estimates ‘Overstating’ Yields

- March 4, 2014. Source: Environmental Leader

Estimates for potential biofuel feedstock crop yields from some widely cited research studies may overstate those yields by as much as 100 percent, according to research by the International Council on Clean Transportation.

One key factor in developing a sustainable biofuels policy is to realistically estimate the amount of biomass that can on average be grown on a given amount of land to produce cellulosic biofuel. But Will energy crop yields meet expectations? found that the highest predicted yields, and associated expectations of how much biomass could be grown for energy, could not be supported by an overview of studies in this field.

JusticeMap - Save an Image

JusticeMap.org (beta), our website and set of race and income open map layers that lets you demonstrate economic and racial injustice, now lets you export the map to an image. This allows you to post it on your website, add it to your publication, share it on Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.

Firstly you customize the map to make it look like you want. Then you click on "Save as Image". You may need to allow popups for our website to get this to work. Then the browser will display the image in a new window. To finish, you can right click on the image to save it.

You can also export a higher resolution image by using our Advanced Mode. Customize the map and when you want to export it use the "Large Image" link. If you want the image to be even larger, you can zoom out in your browser before doing this. For instance, you could set your browser zoom to 50%. Though doing this will make the map slower (and the buttons harder to read).

We also have started supporting the OpenStreetMap base map layer. The OpenStreetMap is both an interesting community project and their terms of service allow for more uses of the data than Google does.

Group Descries Logging in Northampton, MA Watershed

- by Rebecca Everett, March 17, 2014. Source: Daily Hampshire Gazette

Chris Matera of Northampton said he was driving through Whately to go skiing two weeks ago when he noticed piles of fresh-cut logs at the mouth of a trail into a forest.

“I said, ‘Wait, isn’t that the watershed?,’” he recalled recently.

Matera, who heads a statewide group opposed to logging on publicly owned land called Massachusetts Forest Watch, was appalled to think Northampton was allowing logging on the watershed surrounding the Francis P. Ryan and West Whately reservoirs.

Biomass Industry Needs to Prepare for Water Constraints

- by Phil Ciciora, March 5, 2014. Source: University of Illinois News Office

Debates surrounding the sustainability of bioenergy have emerged in recent years relating to water quality and quantity, and those debates will only grow louder as big urban areas in the U.S. start running out of water and environmental groups and the Environmental Protection Agency push for more stringent policies to address nutrient pollution, said Jody Endres, a professor of bioenergy, environmental and natural resources law at Illinois.

“From a bioenergy standpoint, that’s when we’re going to have to figure out how we prioritize growing crops for bioenergy,” said Endres, who also is an affiliate of the Energy Biosciences Institute, a collaboration involving the U. of I., the University of California at Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and BP, an energy company.

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