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Thursday, September 2, 2010

OUR VIEW: Biomass study answers many of our questions

From an editoiral in the Wausau Daily Herald:

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission this week released its findings from a more than five-month review of the environmental impact of the proposed biomass plant in Rothschild.

The results? Well, the PSC found fault with some of the claims made by Domtar and We Energies, the companies whose joint project the plant would be. It's not clear whether the plant can claim to be "carbon neutral," according to regulators. And it's possible, the report suggested, that the companies are lowballing their estimates of the plant's impact on forests.

Those findings must be taken seriously. But so must the PSC finding that the proposed biomass project will not have a "significant impact on the human environment." Emissions will come in below the standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

To many, that always has been the most important question: Will the air we breathe be clean? There certainly are significant concerns that do not directly have to do with the plant's emissions. But the biggest, most emotional questions always have revolved around the quality of the air our communities' children breathe.

On emissions, the PSC findings are not the last word on the subject. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will have final authority on air emissions, and we should wait for its say before forming a final judgment.

As we've seen in the sometimes-heated debate about this project, the creation of a new plant like this is a charged subject. People are right to ask questions and to seek independent analyses of any project of this size.

What we've seen, though, is that there really is a fairly intensive process in place for review of this matter. We've seen numerous public hearings in several forums -- almost all of which have been well-attended by those who represent the full spectrum of opinions on this project. The democratically elected government of Rothschild has had the opportunity to make its decision about zoning for the project.

With the release of this PSC report, we've seen an independent analysis of the facts put forward by Domtar and We Energies. The result of that analysis was not completely uncritical or uncomplicated -- but it certainly didn't find that the companies had lied, or fudged their numbers, or otherwise behaved in a way that raises more serious questions.

The next piece, perhaps the most important piece, will be the DNR analysis.

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