Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) Chair Jennifer Cervenka brushed off the idea that her work for the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Coalition, “a lobbying partnership representing nine Chambers of Commerce” and her work relationship with Coalition CEO John Gregory, who testified before the CRMC in support of National Grid’s liquefaction facility, currently before the commission she chairs, constituted a conflict of interest.
“I have reviewed and considered… [the] letter to Governor Raimondo and… the letter to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission,” said Cervenka. “There are a number of false statements in those letters and with respect to the statements that are not false, they don’t rise to the level of a conflict of interest. I am prepared to move forward with a vote [tonight] and I can render a fair and impartial decision. So, I wanted to respond to that on the record. And with respect to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission request, I intend to defend myself and clear my name.”
The meeting of the CRMC began with a visit from Santa Claus holding a “Naughty List” with the names of Governor Gina Raimondo, CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate and Chair Cervenka listed as naughty, “For supporting LNG in Providence!”
Those listed were given a “Coal Substitute Because they’ll think coal is a reward!” The coal substitutes listed were “Rotten Oysters,” “Contaminated Clams” and “Putrid Lobsters.”
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The theatricality of the Santa visit was was the last light moment of the meeting, before the much less fun theater began.
The first two meetings of the CRMC concerning National Grid’s proposed liquefaction facility to be constructed on Fields Point in South Providence consisted mostly of public testimony, the vast majority of which was from concerned citizens who live near the proposed site, as well as allies and environmentalists, and organized by the NoLNGinPVD coalition. This last meeting allowed no public comment, but did allow National Grid’s lawyer, Robin Main, a chance to call witnesses for “rebuttal.”
Main called National Grid’s Tony LaRusso, still under oath having testified at the first meeting, to talk about two things: How long the liquefaction facility was to be located on the site before being decommissioned (25-30 years), and the color scheme planned for the proposed facility.
As those in attendance worried about the increased asthma rates and health risks their children would be facing as National Grid begins construction, the CRMC was listening to a discussion about the color of the new facility.
As the audience laughed at the absurdity of what they were witnessing, LaRusso explained, “The buildings are the same texture, same color as the existing buildings on the facility. So they’re designed to be that tan color.”
After National Grid finished their rebuttal, the CRMC deliberated about the plan, ahead of a vote. Given that the vote seemed a forgone conclusion, the entire 19 minutes of deliberation was appeared to be nothing but theater.
Don’t forget that from the beginning the CRMC has maintained that their power in this situation was limited. They knew from the beginning how they had to vote, based on their interpretation of the rules. In the end, they treated the rules as orders, and over the objections of area residents concerned about the health effects of the planned facility and with the knowledge that they are continuing a policy of environmental racism plaguing South Providence, the members of the CRMC simply followed orders and voted unanimously to approve the plan.
The reaction of those in attendance to the vote was instant and intense. It was hard not to be affected by the pain and disappointment.
Chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” filled the room.
“Come live in our community!” yelled one, “What’s the point of the CRMC… ?” asked another.
As Cervenka smiled or smirked, depending on who you asked, the crowd reacted.
“Cervenka, this is not cute.”
“You think this is funny? This is kid’s lives goddammit.”
“Shame on you, you fucking disgrace, you pigs! Shame on you!”
“Shameful, disgusting,” said NoLNGinPVD campaign coordinator Monica Huertas. “Now go back to your homes where there’s no pollution.”
The CRMC council members and the National Grid employees were escorted out of the Administrative Building cafeteria by a small army of State and Capitol Police. The presence of so many cops was a last insult to the people who had worked so hard to push the system to fight for the people, rather than for the corporations.
The people in that room were angry and in pain, but they were not violent or criminals.
The only crime to be committed that night happened when the CRMC voted. The only violence was the violence of adding yet one more polluting nightmare to a community already burdened with too much pollution and toxicity.
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