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Not resting on a ‘win’ against fossil fuel compressor station, Rehoboth prepares itself for round two, with the help of elected officials



Cathy Kristofferson

The environmental action group Citizens Against the Rehoboth Compressor Station (CARCS) is not taking their recent “win” for granted. In June 2017 Enbridge Inc (formerly Spectra Energy) finally gave up on its plan to build a fracked gas compressor station in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. Strike that, the company didn’t give up, exactly: Enbridge simply put the project on hold while they searched for a new funding strategy. CARCS fully expects Enbridge to refile and then the battle will begin anew.

The battle against the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure across the United States is not one where a monolithic environmental advocacy movement fights against Big Oil. Instead, the battle is between thousands of community based grassroots groups pitted against whatever projects fossil fuel infrastructure companies think they can get away with. The fight in Rehoboth against the Enbridge Inc compressor station is similar to the fight in Providence against the National Grid liquefaction facility, or the fight in Burrillville against the Invenergy power plant. These fights are taking p[lace all across the country: It’s a thousand Davids against a thousand Goliaths, and most of the time, Goliath wins.

But that’s changing.

At a meeting Thursday night held in Blanding Library, Clair Miller, lead environmental organizer at the Toxic Action Network noted that, CARCS has “much to celebrate.”

“In 2016 Spectra applied for this project and in that application they said that they projected that they would break ground in 2018,” said Miller to cheers and applause. “That is not happening.”

The reason that Rehoboth has yet to break ground on a new compressor station, said Miller, is due in no small part to the work of CARCS, South Coast Neighbors United, No Sharon Gas Pipeline, and “hundreds of groups across this state that have banded together, organized, gotten their voices heard, and made a difference.” The compressor station in Rehoboth was just one small part of a large scale plan to build new pipelines and related infrastructure throughout New England, and dump the cost onto electric ratepayers. That plan failed – for now.

Miller also gave credit for the “win” to elected officials, describing them as “folks who hear these voices, understand what’s at stake, and take action, take leadership, and move forward. It’s because of our democracy and taking civic action that this is possible.”

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Here I was, 15 minutes outside of Providence, hearing words that made me feel like I was on an alien planet: Elected officials actually helping their community to defeat a fossil fuel infrastructure project? Until very recently such a thing was nearly unheard of in Rhode Island. Only after colossal effort on the part of concerned residents have state elected officials begun to seriously take a stand against fossil fuels. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is the only statewide official to take a stand against the Invenergy power plant, and he did that just three days ago. Before that only a hand full of Rhode Island State Representatives and Senators have publicly taken a stand. Most in the Rhode Island General Assembly are supportive of fossil fuels, speaking hypocritically about their environmental concerns, or maintaining a cowardly quietude on the subject.

“We’ve been playing defense, right?” asked Miller. “This application came forward and we had to react to it, and we won. But now we have a unique opportunity to play offense…”

Recently elected Massachusetts State Senator Paul Feeney (Democrat, Bristol and Norfolk District) is part of that offense. “One of the conclusions that we’ve come to is that when we fight these [fossil fuel infrastructure projects] in a silo, when we do this in a vacuum, we spend so much time and resources on defense. And it’s time that we come together, share information, that we learn best practices from each other.”

We need “a wide ranging discussion going forward,” continued Feeney, “on energy in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

It’s not enough to simply fight against various proposals and projects, said Feeney. “When we decide what we want to prioritize, we decide what the future of energy should look like not only in the Commonwealth but across the United States. That’s when we have real power and that’s where we can effect change.”

You can watch all the speakers at the meeting below and ask yourself: Can we make something like this happen in Rhode Island?

Massachusetts State Representative Steven Howitt (Republican, 4th Bristol District) here goes through a list of legislation he’s filed with the express purpose of making it more difficult to build a compressor station in a town against the will of the people.

Cathy Kristofferson of StopNED (Stop Northeast Energy Direct) gave a presentation on expansion plans for all pipelines in Massachusetts.

Lisa PodgurskiManager of Business Development for IBEW Local 103, is a Boston based union official speaking against fossil fuel projects and for renewable energy projects.

Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge (Democrat, Middlesex & Worcester District):

Massachusetts State Senator Patrick O’Connor (Republican, Plymouth and Norfolk District):

Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux (Democrat)

Tracy Manzell of CARCS and Beth Rodio.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.