Lawmakers to Meet Today with House Speaker on Brockton Power Plant

Originally published in the Brockton Enterprise

December 22, 2009
Kyle Alspach (Reporter, Brockton Enterprise)

BROCKTON — State lawmakers from Brockton were to meet today in Boston with House Speaker Robert DeLeo to push for a ban on fossil-fuel power plants in the city.

State Rep. Michael Brady, who set up the meeting, said he would be joined by the city’s three other lawmakers and two local residents, who are all fighting a 350-megawatt plant proposed for Brockton.
In August, the City Council voted to send a "home-rule" petition to the Legislature that — if passed — would keep electricity-generating facilities that burn fossil fuels out of the city.
Brady said he’s looking for that petition to move forward, perhaps with DeLeo’s help.
"We’ll be asking for his support," said Brady, who also serves as Ward 2 city councilor until the end of the year. "We’re going to see what we can or cannot do to stop this project."
Home-rule petitions allow municipal governments to ask the Legislature for practically anything, as long as the request is constitutional, said David Luberoff, executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University.
Home-rule requests are common but don’t often deal with issues as major as banning a power plant, he said.
The proposed city plant could power more than 200,000 homes by burning natural gas and diesel. The project is slated to be built on the city’s south side off Oak Hill Way.
The firm behind the project is Advanced Power Services NA of Boston. Company officials have declined to comment on the home-rule petition.
"We look forward to completion of the local permitting process and that remains the company’s focus," said firm spokesman Wes Eberle.
Project opponents include nearly all elected officials in Brockton, who are concerned about the pollution they say is caused by burning fossil fuels.
The home-rule petition argues that the city is already overburdened with pollution such as particulate matter, linked in numerous studies with health impacts including respiratory and heart disease.
The petition also points to a ruling earlier this year from the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, which found that the energy benefits of the plant "don’t outweigh the potential local impacts."
Though the ruling handed a state license to the plant, the board refused to make the project exempt from local review and said the ruling gave the city "veto power" over the plant.
Now, opponents say they are seeking to exercise that power through the home-rule petition.
The meeting with DeLeo, D-Winthrop, was to be held this afternoon at the Statehouse in Boston. Also in attendance would be Rep. Christine Canavan, Rep. Geraldine Creedon and Sen. Thomas Kennedy, all of Brockton, along with city resident Kate Archard and city business owner Ed Byers.
Archard said the group hopes to address a major concern up front with DeLeo — that passing the home-rule petition could set a bad precedent, opening the doors for "every other city and town" to ban power plants.
"Brockton isn’t every other city and town," Archard said. "We’re one of only 20 environmental justice cities and towns in the state. Therefore, there’s a special responsibility to make sure we’re protected."
The state’s environmental justice policy is meant to protect certain populations, including low-income and minority residents, from being unfairly burdened by polluting industry.
The home-rule petition has been sent to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, though no hearing has been set on the matter, according to the Legislature’s Web site.
Opponents made a similar attempt to ban the plant last year, through an amendment to the state budget banning power plants from Brockton.
The state Senate voted in support, but the measure failed in the House of Representatives in July 2008, where then-Speaker Sal DiMasi opposed it.
Brady said he sees a new opportunity with DeLeo as speaker. "He carries a lot of weight, and he’s been great with a lot of other things we’ve needed," Brady said.
Advanced Power contends the plant would have no health impact since it would be powered mainly by natural gas, the least polluting fossil fuel, and points to approval by state agencies as evidence of this. The company is now seeking approvals from city boards for the project.
Advanced Power hopes to buy roughly 2 million gallons of treated city wastewater per day for cooling, but the sale would need approval from two-thirds of the City Council. Ten of the 11 councilors taking office next month are opponents of the plant, suggesting the sale could be turned down.