Medical Doctors Brief Congress on Biomass Energy Health Hazards

Three medical doctors and a scientist presented the first-ever Congressional briefing on the health hazards of biomass incineration in the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. on September 25, 2012. The briefing was arranged and sponsored by Save America's Forests and the presentations can be viewed online here.

Pediatricians William Sammons, M.D., of Massachusetts and Norma Kreilein, M.D., of Indiana, William Blackley, M.D. of North Carolina, and Rachel Smolker, Ph.D., co-director of Biofuelwatch, educated the attending staff of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on the toxic air pollutants emitted from biomass incinerator smokestacks and their impacts on human health. 

[Left to right]: Dr. Rachel Smolker, Carl Ross, Dr. William Blackley, Dr. Norma Kreilein

New Report Slams “Sustainable” Biomass Energy

Biomass energy is not sustainable at an industrial scale, according to a new report by Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in the US and United Kingdom (UK). Sustainable Biomass: A Modern Myth sounds the warning bell on trends that would make the UK the world’s largest consumer of biomass electricity, along with the inevitable impacts on the climate, forests, public health, and human rights.

The first-of-its-kind report dissects “sustainability standards” being proposed by the UK government to grease the skids for an unprecedented expansion in biomass incineration—much of which would come from the US and global south—while profiling the entities that would craft and monitor these standards. 

Carbon Accounting Errors Skew Burlington, Vermont’s Climate Plan

The City of Burlington, Vermont’s Draft Climate Action Plan reports only a fraction of the carbon dioxide (CO2) smokestack emissions from the McNeil Generating Station [pictured below]—a 50 megawatt biomass incinerator supplying roughly one-third of the city’s electricity—hindering the city’s efforts to accurately measure and reduce its carbon footprint. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates McNeil’s CO2 emissions alone at 444,646 tons per year yet the Burlington Plan reports the entire City of Burlington’s emissions for 2007, from all sources, at 397,272.4 tons. Critics contend that the inaccurate carbon accounting invalidates the Plan’s targets for “20% reduction of 2007 [CO2] levels by 2020” and “80% reductions by 2050”—arguably the main purpose of the plan. 

Obama and Romney Unite on Destructive Bioenergy Policy

President Barack Obama and Republican Party Nominee Mitt Romney may not see eye to eye on issues like same-sex marriage, immigration, or abortion, but when it comes to the candidates’ harmful stances on biomass energy and biofuels, the two might as well be running on the same ticket.

Governor Mitt Romney 

Technically, Romney’s white paper on energy policy, The Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class: Energy Independence, contains only a single mention of the word biofuels. Yet reading between the lines of his plan suggests that an expansion of industrial-scale bioenergy is very much on the former Massachusetts Governor’s agenda.

In broad strokes, Romney’s plan would seek to “dramatically increase domestic energy production” in hopes of reaching “North American energy independence” by 2020. While Romney’s main focus is to ramp up destructive oil and gas drilling, along with coal mining, his plan also supports development of wind, solar, hydroelectric and “other renewable energy facilities.”

EPA to Revise Particulate Matter Standards

- by Rachel Smolker

Medical professionals agree that particulates—especially the smaller ones that can enter deep into the lungs—are harmful to human health, so much so that there is, in fact, no “safe level” of exposure. Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with setting a level for particulate emissions from biomass and other power plants—as if some number of illnesses and deaths is “acceptable.”

The agency is now considering public comments on their proposed (and long overdue) revision of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulates. EPA is required to review these standards every 5 years—but the last time they were reviewed in 2006, the agency ended up in a court battle that kicked back any toughening of standards for fine particulates. The current process is a response to that history. And as the years tick by, hundreds of thousands of people suffer the consequences and costs of particulate-related diseases, including cardiopulmonary diseases, strokes, asthma, and premature births. 

Portland Pollution Map

Neighbors for Clean Air has very neat looking map of suspicious odors and factories. There is also a schools layer which I turned off. The school layer only includes schools in a small square area of the city. It also looks like the factory data is incomplete and does not cover an industrial section in the northern part of town.

Biomass Opponents Silenced by North Carolina Commission

Residents of six counties in North and South Carolina facing massive chicken and pig-manure burning biomass power incinerators, including a man dressed as a chicken [pictured below], were barred from giving testimony at a North Carolina Utilities Commission hearing over biomass electricity requirements on August 28 in Raleigh.

The hearing was in response to a request by Duke Energy, Progress Energy, Dominion Power and others to hold off on the requirement that they provide a certain percentage of North Carolina’s electricity from poultry and pig feces, as had been mandated by the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in 2007. Technical and financial issues have made it impossible for the companies to provide the required 170,000 megawatt hours from poultry waste in 2012.

Biomass Incinerator Looms on Horizon for Gypsum, Colorado

An 11.5 megawatt biomass power incinerator proposal for the 6,400 person central-Colorado town of Gypsum is moving along swiftly, despite concerns of community members and at least one town councilor.

Utah-based Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC’s facility would burn 70,000 bone-dry tons per year of wood chips from whole trees—living and beetle-killed—tree branches and limbs, and “urban wood waste from a local landfill,” requiring 1,200 acres of forest per year sourced within a fifty to seventy-five mile radius. Gypsum is surrounded by the White River National Forest [pictured below]. 

The biomass facility is scheduled to go online by the end of 2013 and would sell ten megawatts to Holy Cross Energy, which provides power for the ski resort towns of Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs.  

Gainesville, FL Ratepayers Demand Biomass Refund

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of Gainesville City Hall on August 2 to demand that Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) repay $15 million to ratepayers—$194 per household—for high electric rates associated with the construction of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 100-megawatt biomass incinerator scheduled to go online in 2013. Protesters accused the utility of overcharging ratepayers to cover future costs of acquiring wood for the incinerator, despite a decrease in the utility’s current fuel costs.

One protester, registered nurse and Gainesville resident Debbie Martinez [pictured above], also asked the Alachua County Commission on August 14 to request that the City of Gainesville and GRU “return the two years in electricity overcharges to GRU customers” and to cease the overcharging. “$15 million dollars in overcharges is approximately $194 for every family, many who are struggling to put food on the table and provide medicine for their loved ones,” said Martinez. 

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Including Biomass Incinerators

Baby back ribs aren’t the only things being cooked in Texas nowadays. With the Nacogdoches Generating Facility firing up for the first time in July—at 100 megawatts, it’s one of the largest biomass power incinerators in the U.S.—Texas will also be cooking a heck of a lot of trees. At least one million green tons of wood per year, to be sourced from whole trees, tree tops, limbs and sawmill residues within a 75-mile radius of Sacul, Texas, according to a fact sheet from owner and operator Southern Power

Southern Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company, purchased the yet-to-be-constructed facility from American Renewables in 2009. Southern Company also owns electric utilities in four states, including coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants, along with “the nation's second largest solar photovoltaic plant,” in partnership with CNN founder Ted Turner, according to a company press release

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