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Biomass incineration bill opposed at State House rally



“When ECRI speaks, we speak as the united voice of the environmental community in the state,” said Jerry Elmer, senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and outgoing President of the Environmental Council of Rhode Island (ECRI). “ECRI is opposed to H8020… Environmentalist oppose this biomass bill because burning biomass can release more carbon and more particulates into the atmosphere than burning fossil fuels.”

“Audubon has a long history of opposition to waste incineration and waste to energy facilities, and we oppose them because of the air pollution they cause and the particulates and other toxins that they emit.” said Meg Kerr, senior director of policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and incoming President of ECRI “Biomass facilities burn wood and other waste products to produce energy. The legislation we’re thinking about today, H8020, would incentivize energy production not only by allowing them but by making the eligible for renewable energy incentives under the net metering program.”

“You may be wondering why I’m here today. I’m here on behalf of Common Cause Rhode Island because this is more than just an environmental issue. It’s also about how public policy is being made in the state of Rhode Island,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “Common Cause cares deeply that public policy is made in the public interest, not for private interest. What we are seeing is a classic case of what economists call rent-seeking. This is legislation, introduced at the behest of a single developer, who will profit by adding biomass to the list of sources available for net metering, a program established to promote green technologies.

“Our legislature is being asked to weigh the public interest against the economic interests of a single developer. And it’s not the first time we’ve seen this same developer come hat in hand to our legislature,” continued Marion. “In 2016 this same developer tried to subvert the legislative process through a midnight amendment to the state budget that received zero vetting. Only after being publicly exposed was that amendment pulled out of the budget. This time the rent-seeking is not being done under the cover of darkness but nevertheless it puts into stark relief the nexus of money and politics in our state.”

“We’re a science based and advocacy organization based in Massachusetts but we do work all over the world, in particular tracking clean energy issues and specifically looking at biomass issues and the attempt by the biomass industry worldwide to infiltrate our clean energy policies, essentially, to put forth false science, and talk about how burning forests or burning trees or burning construction debris or burning wood is clean energy when it really is not, because clean energy does not , in any form, ever come out of a smokestack,” said Jay McCaffrey, New England clean energy advocate for the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI). The effort here in Rhode Island, “.took many of us by surprise, I think.”

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Biomass, “by any account, is more polluting than coal,” said McCaffrey. “At the smokestack and per megawatt hour it is significantly more polluting than other forms of fossil fuels like natural gas. Rhode Island has already made a serious error in incentivizing biomass through its renewable energy portfolio standard, which led to more than half of Rhode Island’s energy coming from polluting forms of biomass from around the region in 2015, by Rhode Island’s own accounting.”

The very cleanest biomass facilities, said McCaffrey, “Will emit 150 percent of the nitrogen oxides, 600 percent of the volatile organic compounds, 190 percent of the particulate matter, and 125 percent of the carbon monoxide of a coal plant.”

“This biomass incineration legislation is not in the interest of our climate, our environment, or our ratepayers,” said Rhode Island State Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence). “It uses the Trump administration’s logic to justify the kind of special interest backroom deals that Rhode Islanders are so fed up with. That’s why I will be opposing this bill as strenuously as possible, and I urge state leaders to do the same.”

Other representatives present at the press conference include Representatives Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol), Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence), Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Warren) and Deborah Ruggiero (Democrat, District 74, Jamestown).

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo‘s Deputy Campaign Manager David Ortiz, responded to inquiries on the bill saying, “there’s significant concern in the environmental community about biomass, and so the Governor has concerns. She has to learn more about this bill but at the outset it’s clear there are questions and concerns that have to be addressed.”

“This project would hurt people, it would hurt the environment and it would be bad for the state,” said candidate for governor Matt Brown earlier today. “These projects wouldn’t be even considered if it weren’t for the campaign contributions these corporations have funneled to politicians our state.”

“The idea of burning wood is the wrong approach to solving our energy needs. When lawmakers look at all the alternatives to producing electricity, this one should not even be on the
list,” said candidate for governor Paul Roselli last week.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.