In January, Springfield biomass opponents scored a significant victory, when the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that Palmer Renewable Energy did not have the legal right to begin building the wood-burning power plant it’s proposed for East Springfield.
This weekend, two grassroots groups leading that fight—Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield and Arise for Social Justice—were honored for their work by the Toxics Action Center. The non-profit, which works with community groups around New England on environmental and public health issues, gave the Springfield groups one of its “25 Years of Victories Awards,” which mark the 25th anniversary of Toxics Action Center’s founding.
The awards were given on Saturday at the Environmental Action 2012 conference in Boston. They were handed out by Lois Gibbs, who in the 1970s organized her neighbors in her upstate New York community—the now-infamous Love Canal—after discovering that their homes and local elementary school were built on the site of a toxic dump. Their activism helped spur the creation of the federal Superfund program to clean up toxic sites.
STIS and Arise have been fighting for several years to keep the PRE plant from being built, citing concerns about its effect on the environment and public health—concerns that have been shared by the Mass. Medical Society, the American Lung Association, the Mass. Breast Cancer Coalition, the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, and the Connecticut River Watershed Council, among other groups.
Last year, the activists successfully persuaded the Springfield City Council to revoke a special permit it had granted the developers in 2008. When the city’s Building Commissioner, under the guidance of the Law Department, issued building permits to PRE last fall, councilors and activists alike appealed to the ZBA, arguing, successfully, that building permits could not be granted without a special permit from the Council.
PRE has filed a legal challenge to the Council’s decision to revoke the special permit, and has indicated that it will also appeal the ZBA ruling.
“Protecting our community’s health was our first priority, but we’ve really learned how fighting an incinerator in Springfield connects to important work being done around the country—by local people—to save our planet,” award recipient Michaelann Bewsee, of STIS and Arise, said in an announcement of the honor.
Bewsee also noted Toxics Action Center’s support of the Springfield activists: “As newbies to environmental issues, we knew we needed all the help we could get, and so we contacted Toxics Action Center. Their organizers are fantastic and they helped us develop and design our campaign in a way that saved us many false steps.”