“We have been told repeatedly to ‘trust the process,'” said Representative Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester), but, “some people in Burrillville and across the state feel the process needs to be re-examined.”
Keable was introducing his bill to fundamentally alter the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) which was originally created in 1986 to fast track the development of fossil fuel power plants over the objections of local communities and the environmental concerns of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM).
The legislation, if passed, would not have an impact on the current case pending before the EFSB, Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwestern Rhode Island, but the legislation is inspired by that long running case.
Keable’s bill, H8120, “would make changes to the membership of the energy facilities siting board by increasing the size of the board from three to nine members, and also imposes additional requirements on applicants for energy facilities.” Keable developed the bill after a series of House study commission meetings, but the members of the study commission did not sign off on the legislation before it was submitted.
The most obvious change is increasing the size of the board from three to nine members. Under the revised statute, the nine members would be:
- the chairperson of the public utilities commission, or their designee, who shall serve as chairperson of the siting board;
- the director of the department of environmental management; and, or their designee;
- the associate director of administration for planning., or their designee;
- the director of the department of health, or their designee;
- the attorney general, or their designee;
- four members of the public;
Under this legislation, the EFSB would need to consider the siting of future plants with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, as specified in the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 in mind.
The legislation also, for the first time in Rhode Island law, defines “environmental justice.” The definition was adapted from a Massachusetts statute:
“Environmental justice” means and includes the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits.
The legislation provides for a “counsel for the public” who “shall represent the public in seeking to protect the quality of the environment, including advocating for environmental justice matters.” The council for the public “shall be accorded all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of an attorney representing a party in formal action and shall serve until the decision to issue or deny an application is final.” In this sense, the counsel for the public would act much as the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has acted in the current Invenergy application.
Other issues addressed by Keable’s bill are the completeness of the application, explicit plans as to where the proposed facility will access water, sewer, electric and gas, and a mandate that an applicant supply all the information needed to state, city and town organizations tasked with producing advisory opinions to the EFSB. Amazingly, several state agencies found themselves unable to render advisory opinions due to Invenergy not answering calls for information.
National Grid lobbyist Frank McMann worried that the legislation might hinder his compnay’s ability to complete smaller powerline installations, though that seems an easy tweak. John Simmons, representing both RIPEC (Rhode Island public Expenditures Council) and RIBA (Rhode Island Business Association) opposed the legislation as putting onerous restrictions on fossil fuel companies looking to build power plants in the state.
In general, the legislation was supported by environmental groups and opposed by groups focused on the interests of the fossil fuel industry. The full public discussion in House Environment and Natural Resources Committee can be viewed below:
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