Accusations of environmental racism and white supremacy seemed to agitate the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and representatives of National Grid at the first of two scheduled hearings Tuesday evening. After National Grid spent nearly 90 minutes explaining their plan to build a liquefaction facility on Fields Point in the Port of Providence, an area surrounded by low-income communities of color, 18 community members and environmental advocates spoke against the project.
Only three people spoke in favor of the proposal, including two representatives from the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, two groups not known for being concerned with the environment or human rights.
CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate tried to lower the expectations of those in opposition to National Grid’s plan by explaining the limited role CRMC has in the process.
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“The FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] preempts any state regulatory process,” said Fugate. “So the authority that we get to review this project comes through a Federal Act, through NOAA.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a science agency under the United States Department of Commerce concerned with oceanic and atmospheric conditions.
“NOAA essentially dictates what we can and cannot review through that act,” continued Fugate. “Because of FERC’s statute they preempt us on a number of areas. They preempt us on such areas as safety, health, need, siting… We have a very limited review, as I’ve indicated, it is related to the coastal effects and the enforceable policies.
“As to climate change,” said Fugate, “we dug into that one with NOAA because we understand very keenly the issues of climate change and what climate change means to our state. We’re very much aware of that and while we don’t disagree with what’s been said, NOAA again indicated that even if we were to try to develop a policy to say that there would be no further development of carbon based fuel systems within the coastal zone, they would not support that regulation and would not allow us to enforce it. So we’re very limited in what we can and cannot review in this project, unfortunately.”
Things heated up during the meeting when community activist Justice Gaines characterized National Grid’s project and the CRMC hearings as both environmental racism and white supremacy:
“This facility is a part of environmental racism that particularly affects people of color,” said Gaines. “When you look at global warming and you look at climate change the impacts detrimentally impact people of color across the globe far more than white people. So this isn’t just an issue of the economy, this is also a civil rights issue and it also directly affects people of color and its about racism just as much as its about environment and that needs to be understood by this council and by the people building this project.
“I want to ask folks on this council how many of you live a quarter mile or even a half mile away from this facility.”
“That’s a statement right?” asked CRMC Chair Jennifer Cervenka.
“No, it’s an actual question,” said Gaines.
“Well, continue,” said Cervenka, declining to answer the question
“Okay. None,” said Gaines, answering her own question. “Okay. So I think that’s a big thing, right? Because there are people in those communities that do live there and are going to be impacted. And again, they are being targeted. They are either neglected or persecuted based on the fact that they are low income communities of color. This is simply another extension of that, and in an age when people like to quickly condemn white supremacism marching through Charlottesville, people don’t like to acknowledge how this is white supremacy.
“When you look at this council and you look at who’s here representing National Grid, I think you can notice something,” said Gaines. “I think we all can see…”
“Can you keep your comments relevant to the application…” interrupted Cervenka, to the outrage of the audience.
“I’m sorry, this is extremely relevant,” said Gaines. “That’s exactly my point. The fact that you think that race is not relevant to this is extremely [wild?] to me, because race is so relevant to the building of this facility. This facility will affect people of color and is a part of racism. I need you to understand that this is not some wild thought…”
“I understand,” interrupted Cervenka again, “We all understand the points you are making tonight. We understand that. And i want you to be able to say what you want to say. But…”
The audience drowned out Cervenka at this point.
“No,” said Cervenka, “because everyone gets five minutes, you’re getting close to your five minute period, and just please wrap up, I respect your comments and please wrap up.”
“Okay. I’m confused why you would cut me off if [the comments] were relevant, if you respect the comments, I’m thrown off by that,” said Gaines. “This has everything to do with white supremacy and racism, and we, people of color, people who look like me, are going to feel it first.”
The issue of environmental racism and white supremacy were compounded when the next speaker, Ellen Tuzzolo, a community member who lives near the proposed facility and is a member of SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) spoke, directly after Gaines.
“I can only conclude that the roots of this project and the decision to place this facility where it is fueled by deeply held racist and classist beliefs,” said Tuzzolo. “Beliefs that the people of South Providence, who are mostly people of color and also low income, either wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t have the capacity to fight this project. This, as you shall find and as you already should be seeing is certainly very far from the truth. Furthermore, I can’t help but believe that National Grid would even dare to propose this project in a community that was white.
“And I just want to point out that I’ve been talking about racism for a minute here and nobody interrupted me, as a white person, while Justice was interrupted.”
“I just want to point out that you’re still within your time,” said Cervenka.
“Justice was also within her time,” countered Tuzzolo.
The next meeting of the CRMC will be held 5pm on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 in the Cafeteria of the Administrative Building, One Capitol Hill, Providence, RI.
Many others addressed the CRMC during the hearing.
Monika Huertas of No LNG in PVD:
Christine Cabrera of the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island:
Wassa Bagayoko of the Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition (RISCC):
Nick Katkevich of the FANG Collective:
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza sent Leah Bamberger, Director of Sustainability for the City of Providence, to deliver his comments in opposition to the facility:
Here are all the speakers at the hearing:
Here’s National Grid making their case for the project: