The 100 Most Polluting Biomass Energy Facilities in Pennsylvania – Map, Database, and Report

Promoted as green, subsidized with nearly $70 million in taxpayer dollars, industrial and commercial wood burners are significant source of air pollution in Pennsylvania

See the map and database here.

Pennsylvania’s most polluting biomass energy facilities are identified in an online map and searchable database released today by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI).  Funded by the Heinz Endowments, the database provides information on pollution emissions, pollution controls, and permit renewal dates for companies burning wood or other biomass for fuel. The database and a report summarizing its findings are available at

“Biomass continues to be subsidized and promoted in Pennsylvania as so-called ‘clean’ energy, while the reality is that biomass burners can emit as much soot, toxins, and other air pollutants into local communities as a similarly sized coal-fired burner,” said Mary Booth, director of PFPI and the author of the report.  “There is no better time than ‘National Bioenergy Day’ (October 22nd) for people to learn the extent to which taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this highly polluting industry.”

The database contains information on more than 100 air permits for biomass energy and wood pellet manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania.  Many of the facilities in the database are sawmills and other wood manufacturing facilities with biomass boilers that are allowed to emit as much or more air pollution as a same-sized coal- or oil-fired boiler.

The report includes information on the more than $69 million in federal and state subsidies and loans that was allocated in recent years for biomass-burning and wood pellet manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania.  The investigation found that of 38 companies that received support, 19 either no longer exist or have not yet received an operating permit.  It is not clear what happened to the funding in these cases.

The PFPI report found that almost all biomass burners installed in recent years, including those at businesses, schools, and other institutions that have received grants and loans from the State, have permits that allow them to emit as much pollution as the older industrial biomass burners.  Many are located in counties that currently do not meet air quality standards for particulate matter and ozone, and which have elevated rates of asthma in school-age children.  Economic modeling highlighted in the report shows that each additional ton of particulate matter pollution emitted by these poorly controlled facilities can impose hundreds of thousands of dollars in health and environmental costs, with financial impacts greatest in counties that already have degraded air quality.

“These results tell a dismal story about Pennsylvania air permitting and the lax standards that allow even small biomass burners to be very polluting,” said Mary Booth.  “Adding to the problem, the state is subsidizing highly polluting biomass burners to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even in counties where air pollution is already bad.  Subsidizing this polluting technology is a waste of public funds, but if the State continues to award such grants, it should at least require facilities to reduce their toxic emissions.”

The PFPI report links to guidance from an allied environmental group, Pennsylvania’s Clean Air Council, that helps citizens comment on air permits to the Pennsylvania DEP.  The Council has done extensive legal work to reduce pollution from commercial and residential wood-burning.  “The adverse health impacts of wood smoke are significant,” stated Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director of Clean Air Council. “The PFPI database is a great tool that impacted residents can use to take action in their community to protect their air quality.”

PFPI’s Pennsylvania bioenergy database and report were funded by The Heinz Endowments, which supports efforts to make southwestern Pennsylvania a premier place to live and work, a center for learning and educational excellence, and a region that embraces diversity and inclusion.

See the map and the database here.

Partnership for Policy Integrity