In order for Rhode Island to truly become a leader in supporting renewable energy, we cannot continue to pour money into development of new fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes not only rejecting the Invenergy fracked gas power plant in Burrillville, but also rejecting the development of a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Providence. For the past year, environmentalists and members of the community have been speaking out against the proposed LNG facility, and I myself attended a public hearing back in July to voice my concerns. Many opponents continue to speak out as this facility is being considered. Earlier this month, a hearing was held to determine if the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) should support the plan, while a second CRMC hearing is being held on November 28th.
There are many reasons to reject the proposed LNG facility, and I ask that the CRMC deny any permits or approvals that would move the project forward. These reasons include, but are not limited to, the need to reject investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure, potential environmental impacts, environmental racism, and issues relating to not meeting CRMC’s own variance criteria.
First, the new LNG facility will not help Rhode Islanders. There are potentially only a handful of days per year of natural gas shortage that the new facility could help solve. However, efforts to provide efficiencies, such as energy-efficient windows, could offset that need. The proposed facility would require a gas compressor station and cooling system which would use as much energy as half of what is generated by Deep Water Wind, and the methane used by this plant would come from the Marcellus Shale via hydraulic fracturing. National Grid wants to use $100M of ratepayer money to fund a facility that would continue the use of climate changing fossil fuels at a time when we must transition to infrastructure projects in renewable, green energy.
There are important environmental impacts that must be considered, which dictate the rejection of this plant. In 2005, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied a Keyspan LNG application due to safety concerns at this location. At that time, FERC Commissioner Nora Brownell stated that the proposal was rejected because of “very real concerns made by the residents in communities and all of the towns nearby” and the safety risks associated with the application. These same risks still exist if a new LNG facility were to be constructed at this site.
LNG accidents in Algeria and the state of Washington show how dangerous this type of facility is. If the LNG facility were to leak or become unpressurized, it could ignite and not only impose dangers at that facility, but nearby chemical plants like the Univar facility which is listed on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Toxic Release Inventory, as well as other fuel facilities at the Port of Providence which is the largest fuel port in southern New England, leading to an even more devastating disaster.
Can we please ask a favor?
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In October of 2015, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) wrote a letter to FERC recommending a health impact assessment. They recommended careful attention be paid to potential impacts on the health of nearby residents, but also on the critical healthcare infrastructure, including the state’s only level 1 trauma center, located very close to the proposed facility. I agree with the concerns in the letter, and thank Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and the RIDOH for highlighting the issues the facility poses to our state’s health and well-being.
At both the hearing I attended in July and the CRMC hearing earlier this month, residents of the area expressed their objections to the plant, pointing out that this facility promotes environmental racism. I strongly support their concerns. South Providence and the Washington Park neighborhood, with a large population percentage of people of color and lower income households, have little to no access to the waterfront as it is zoned for industry and densely occupied by polluting, hazardous facilities. This stands in stark contrast to areas like Downtown, the East Side, and Fox Point which are predominantly affluent and white, and have beautiful parks and fun community activities on the water. The community should not be overburdened and forced to endure the ill effects of the new facility, as well as the risks associated with it. Environmental racism continues because residents of the communities affected may not be aware of proposed new facilities, or because they are not able to attend hearings due to working multiple jobs or taking care of children. These challenges are less of an issue for wealthier neighborhoods. One can only imagine what would happen if this proposed plant was to be located on Potowomut in Warwick or Nayatt Point in Barrington.
I am hopeful that the CRMC’s own policies will prevent them from allowing their support of the project. Even though the new facility, located only 15 feet from the bay, would be elevated to resist storm surge, the current 43 year old LNG tank at the facility is not protected from storm surge. Also, given that the proposed location is adjacent to CRMC designated “Type 6” waters, the council’s own guidelines state they prohibit activities that interfere with the priority uses of shipping and commercial fisheries. Their rules also dictate that an alteration cannot result in significant adverse environmental impacts or use conflicts. However, given the amount of area being filled in for the new facility, it will likely lead to flooding and storm surge impacts to adjacent hazardous sites within the floodplain.
Finally, the CRMC’s guidelines state that National Grid must demonstrate a hardship, and that the hardship is shown to be unique or particular to that site. The guidelines also state that economic advantage or inconvenience does not constitute undue hardship that will support the granting of a variance. National Grid has not demonstrated a real hardship that would require them to build the LNG facility at this location as it does not need access to the waterfront.
In a state with the nation’s first offshore wind farm, and its strong commitment to renewable energy, we need to match our actions to our principles. And the people of Rhode Island need to know that we have regulatory commissions like the CRMC to protect them from environmental harm. I strongly request that the CRMC consider doing what they can to prevent this proposed LNG facility from moving forward.
The application of National Grid LNG, LLC CRMC File Number 2016-10-099 will be reviewed at the Tuesday, November 28th, 2017 meeting of the Coastal Resources Management Council. The meeting is to be held at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 in the Cafeteria, at the Administrative Building, One Capitol Hill, Providence, RI.