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Patricia Morgan in Burrillville



Rhode Island House Minority Leader and Republican candidate for Governor of Rhode Island Patricia Morgan knows very little about the environment or energy. What little she does know seems to come prepackaged from fossil fuel industry insiders. To her credit though, Morgan told the three dozen people gathered in the First Universalist Church of Burrillville that she had come to learn.

The people of Burrillville have been leading the effort to stop the construction of Invenergy‘s planned $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island. The approval of the plant has been before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) for nearly three years, and a decision is not expected until sometime after the November elections, barring further delays.

Morgan started the meeting on the right track, telling those assembled, “I’m against putting it [the power plant] here in Burrillville.”

Her opposition to the power plant doesn’t mean that Morgan is opposed to new fossil fuel infrastructure, however. Last year, shortly after the presidential inauguration, Morgan wrote Donald Trump a letter asking for help in completing the Algonquin Gas pipeline, which she said was “bogged down for years during the Obama administration, presumably for climate change reasons.”

When those meeting Morgan in Burrillville informed her that, based on their years of research, more pipelines and natural gas infrastructure are not needed to keep the lights on in Rhode Island, Morgan responded, “What you’re saying is not what I’m hearing. We don’t have enough gas in Rhode Island. We don’t. And that’s why the price goes up in the winter. What I heard from National Grid and the ISO representatives was that we have gas constraints in Rhode Island.”

Suddenly Morgan, a Republican, is sounding exactly like Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats. All three seem to have bought into the idea that natural gas is a bridge fuel.

“Natural Gas is a really good transition fuel,” maintained Morgan. “We just can’t say no if it’s a good transition fuel right now.”

“It’s not,” said Lauren Niedel from Chepachet.

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“It is,” objected Morgan. “It’s cleaner than oil and I know you guys use oil but it’s a whole lot cleaner than oil and a whole lot cleaner than coal. What’s the alternative?”

“Renewables!” said someone from the pews.

But Morgan isn’t sold on renewables. She says that the prices for electricity from renewables is too high, and she’s worried about the widow who might lose her house if energy prices keep rising.

“We do need electricity,” says Morgan. “I don’t think anybody wants to go back to candles. I like watching television at night, right?” Burrillville has heard these kind of patronizing sentiments before, of course, from the same union officials that Morgan earlier derided as “insiders.”

Morgan is not an extremist who denies the existence of climate change. When told that by an member of the audience that, “global warming is a fact, it’s destroying the earth,” Morgan responded simply, “It is.”

Three times Morgan referred to liquefied natural gas as “liquefied nitrogen gas” :

“I know that there’s some controversy about liquefied nitrogen gas and the folks in Providence are worried about, I think, safety, the safety issues around it?” said Morgan uncertainly. “I don’t know. Is it very volatile? Is it subject to terrorist attack?”

and later,

“Do we need more gas? Is there a way to bring more Liquid Nitrogen Gas here in a way that’s not dangerous? You get it – That’s not subject to terrorists or whatever the problems are with LNG?”

Morgan’s misstatements and lack of knowledge about energy and environmental issues led to an outburst from the audience (at the 44m mark in the video below) when Norman Desjarlais and one other person left the meeting. “I can’t,” said Desjarlais in apparent disgust. “I can’t listen to more of this. Liquid Nitrogen Gas? This woman- No clue. Not a clue.”

Burrillville is a welcoming place and always gracious. Governor Gina Raimondo, who has received campaign donations from Michael Polsky, founder, president and CEO of Invenergy, and has been all in for the project from the start, was treated like royalty when she visited the town in the summer of 2016. Desjarlais’ outburst was surprising, even if it was completely understandable.

Burrillville is looking for a champion: Someone who will advocate and fight for the town on the statewide stage. Is Patricia Morgan the hero Burrillville needs? I leave you with this:

“About a year ago [Burrillville State Representative] Cale Keable introduced a bill [that would change the EFSB from 3 to 7 members],” said a woman in the audience to Morgan. “There were two bills that were introduced. I was just curious as to how you voted on them?” [Note that only one of the bills made it to the House floor for a vote.]

“I don’t remember,” said Morgan.

Here’s the full video:

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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.