Massachusetts Groups Urge Gov. Baker to Stop Using Public Funds to Subsidize Wood-Burning Energy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, March 20

(Pelham, MA) More than thirty Massachusetts groups and prominent scientists sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker today protesting the Department of Energy Resources’ (DOER) recent awards of nearly $3 million for wood-chipping facilities in western MA and calling on the Administration to stop promoting wood-burning as “clean” energy.

“The Commonwealth should not be incentivizing technologies that will accelerate climate change, worsen air quality, and use our forests for fuel,” the letter stated.

The groups charged that the Baker Administration is promoting wood-burning heat through a variety of state programs at the expense of other renewable heating technologies that do not pollute, such as solar heat and hot water and air and ground source heat pumps. Wood boilers and stoves are already a major source of air pollution in Massachusetts, contributing a quarter of the state’s total PM2.5 emissions, according to data from the National Emissions Inventory. Burning woody biomass to produce heat or electricity emits far more CO2 than fossil fuels yet is subsidized through programs intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We can’t burn our way out of the climate crisis,” said Dr. Mary S. Booth, director of the Pelham-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI). “Climate scientists agree that to avoid catastrophic climate change we need to reduce carbon emissions and increase natural carbon sinks, especially forests. Instead of following the science, the Baker Administration is using taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies to prop up the logging industry and promote more biomass burning.”

“Governor Baker’s actions are inconsistent with his publicly stated positions on climate change,” said Deb Pasternak, Director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club. “In order to be a national leader he must stop promoting false climate solutions such as wood-burning energy and use his power of office to support energy efficiency and truly clean renewables.”

Legislation was introduced in the Massachusetts General Court earlier this year (H.853) that would remove woody biomass and garbage incineration from eligibility in the state’s Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS).

Rep. Denise Provost (27th Middlesex), who introduced the bill, said, “It should be obvious that we won’t reach a carbon free future by burning all the carbon that’s sequestered in our forests. Promoting the burning of “woody biomass” – trees – destroys our greatest carbon storage asset, releasing into the atmosphere carbon dioxide mixed with a toxic brew of air pollutants. I hear from constituents constantly about the need to reverse climate change, and to improve air quality. I can’t stand by silent when the policies of the Commonwealth do the opposite.”

State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), who is a cosponsor,  said, “Subsidizing wood-burning is in direct conflict with Governor Baker’s testimony before Congress last month about the urgent need to reduce harmful emissions and invest in clean energy. Wood-burning accelerates the harmful impact of climate change by depleting our forest, and worsening air quality, the latter disproportionally affecting low-income communities in Massachusetts. I hope the Governor reverses this action, and starts working with climate action groups across the state towards a 100% clean energy future.”

“Why is the state using our money to make air quality worse and erode the environment, all in the name of so-called “green” energy?” said Janet Sinclair, a citizen activist with Franklin County Concerned Citizens who has been working for years to address wood smoke issues. “The Baker Administration is promoting a bad public policy which will literally make people sick.”

Even “modern” EPA-certified wood stoves emit health-damaging particulates and toxins that can increase the risk of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and premature death. Wood smoke contains fine particles (particulate matter of 2.5 microns diameter or smaller, known as PM2.5) that are easily inhaled and can lodge deep in the lungs, as well as hazardous air pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene and dioxins.

In addition to the APS program, the state offers generous incentives for installing residential and commercial wood heating systems through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The MassCEC rebate of up to $500,000 for commercial-scale projects and up to $16,500 for residential projects will expire next year. The forestry industry is vigorously lobbying to extend the program for another ten years.

Signatories on the letter include: prominent environmental scientists, including Dr. Philip B. Duffy, President of the Woods Hole Research Center and Dr. William Moomaw, Co-Director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University; state and regional environmental groups, including Clean Water Action, Environment Massachusetts, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Mass Climate Action Network, MassPIRG, PFPI, RESTORE: The North Woods, Sierra Club, and the Toxics Action Center; and a wide range of grassroots groups, especially from Western Massachusetts where much of the logging and wood-chipping will be taking place if the Baker Administration proceeds with its plans to significantly expand the use of wood furnaces for residential and commercial heating.

Link to the Baker sign-on letter

Link to factsheet about H853

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Partnership for Policy Integrity