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December 12, 2012

Local sites included in report slamming biomass initiatives

— A Massachusetts-based environmental group released a study Wednesday criticizing Penn­sylvania for funding biomass initiatives that turn scrap wood into burnable pellets, a heat source used by commercial and institutional facilities.

In the 77-page study, the Partnership for Policy Integrity says the products create a negative impact on air quality and could result in health risks.

The report, “Biomass Energy in Pennsylvania,” was funded by a $34,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments, said Gordon Clark, the organization’s communications director.

In this region, the report cites the State Correctional Institution in Cresson and Glendale School District as having or proposing one of the systems. Also listed in the report are C&C Smith Lumber Co. Inc. of Summerhill and its sister company, Wood Pellets Co.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s International Conservation Center in Fairhope Township is the only Somerset County site listed.

Department of Corrections deputy press secretary Susan Bensinger said the Cresson Township prison is heated by burning wood chips, which has significantly reduced heating bills. The conversion was made 17 months ago using a design that includes a filtration system that removes pollutants before they enter the air, she said.

The Smith company did not return a call seeking comment.

Glendale Superintendent Ar­nold Nadonley said a proposed biomass system never came to fruition. Former Superintendent Dennis Bruno, acting without board approval, had applied for an Energy Harvest Grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The $350,000 grant was rejected when officials learned the district would have to come up with nearly $1.4 million for the conversion, Nadonley said.

Clark said the author of the report, Mary Booth, was unaware the grant had been rejected.

DEP spokesman John Poister said the agency disagrees with assertions made in the study.

“The burning of biomass is highly regulated in Pennsylvania, and we have a fair and predictable permitting program for it,” he said. “The DEP takes the stewardship of air quality issues very seriously.”

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