An Anti-Biomass Movement Beyond Borders

– by Josh Schlossberg, May 15, 2013

The grassroots biomass resistance has come a long way over the years and it’s growing stronger every day. A mere five years ago few people even questioned the logic of classifying polluting biomass energy alongside smokestack-free energy sources like solar and wind. Most environmental groups hailed bioenergy as a climate savior and the only mentions of biomass in the media were how many jobs developers were promising. 

Then a very good thing—concern with climate change—opened the floodgates to something very bad—billions of dollars of government subsidies for biomass. Like a pack of hungry rats, the biomass industry gorged itself on the taxpayer-funded government cheese. A rash of biomass incinerator proposals erupted across the nation like an outbreak of acne. Quiet communities found themselves facing polluting monstrosities being erected a stone’s throw away from their homes or their children’s schools.

Enter the grassroots anti-biomass movement…

Communities across the Northwest, the Rockies, the Upper Midwest, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic region, and the Southeast began banding together to confront the bio-monster. Drawing on statements by public health organizations such as the American Lung Association and medical professionals like Dr. Bill Sammons of Massachusetts, Dr. Norma Kreilein of Indiana, Dr. Bill Blackley of North Carolina, and Dr. Ron Saff of Florida, citizens sounded the alarm on health threats from an energy source that typically spews out more asthma-causing particulate matter and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds per unit of energy than a coal burning plant. Biomass busters across the nation collected one scientific study after another debunking the biomass industry’s “carbon neutral” myth and shoved them under the noses of politicians and the media.

Thanks, in no small part, to the grassroots anti-biomass movement, the bio-mess is now impossible for the general public to ignore. And we’re helping to slow down the bio-massacre, too. Over the last few years, dozens of biomass facilities have been proposed only to be withdrawn, the developers run out of town by unfavorable economics, nervous investors, clear-sighted politicians, and locals unwilling to bear the burden of another dirty power plant.

The ghosts of defeated biomass proposals harmlessly roam the streets of towns such as Shelton, Washington; Traverse City, Michigan; Milltown and Scottsburg, Indiana; Greenfield, Massachusetts; Valdosta, Georgia; and Port St. Joe, Florida, and many more (with more to come).

The handful of incinerators that bought their way into existence faced a tough fight every step of the way, and are now being watched like hawks by irate community members in towns like Gainesville, Florida; Rothschild, Wisconsin; and Eugene, Oregon. Every tax hike, safety oversight, and air permit violation is broadcast across the national network to prevent other toxic biomass power plants from taking root.

And sometimes the victories are bittersweet. Kings Beach, California and Pownal, Vermont both managed to keep biomass profiteers from breaking ground in their towns. But like hockey-masked Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, the developers didn’t die, only set up shop in poorer, less-organized towns a bit further down the road in Placer County, California and Fair Haven, Vermont. Only strong statewide networks can keep the bio-monster at bay.

But even statewide efforts aren’t enough, as developers have just learned to avoid the more troublesome states and set their sights on the ones without active resistance. Which is where the national Anti-Biomass Incineration campaign comes in.

If local fights are the “heart” of the anti-biomass movement, the national campaign is the system of arteries and veins that keep the blood flowing. To date, over 50 organizations across 35 US states have united in solidarity on a clear and compelling message opposing “all industrial, commercial and institutional burning of biomass and biofuels for energy.” If your organization hasn’t already signed the platform, what are you waiting for? Join the national movement by emailing Traci [at] energyjustice [dot] net.

Of course, the biomass battle isn’t only being waged in the United States. US and UK-based Biofuelwatch has demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that the anti-biomass movement must go international, pointing towards Europe’s increasing demand for biomass from the US and the global south. On April 15, 2013, Australian-based Biomassacre.com hosted the first International Day of Action Against Bioenergy, where hundreds of people around the world in Australia, UK, US, Germany and Italy held up signs to show anti-biomass solidarity on an online visual petition.

It’s become crystal clear that if we want to clean up the biomess once and for all, the anti-biomass movement needs to move beyond borders and take the resistance beyond NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) to NOPE (Not On Planet Earth)!

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