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Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, January 18, 2019



“Fresh, clean water cannot be taken for granted. And it is not – water is political and litigious…”

Michael Burry, the businessman featured in The Big Short (2015)

Welcome to The Uprising!

1a. Water

Things are happening in the world of water here in Rhode Island. The $400 million valuation of the Providence Water system has gotten a lot of people interested in privatizing that vast amount of wealth, whether by purchase or lease. Sensing a story, I attended the monthly meetings of both the Providence Water Supply Board and the Rhode Island Water Resources Board in December.

This week, both Boards cancelled their monthly meetings for January.

At the Providence City Council meeting held on January 17, Providence City Councilors Luis Aponte (Ward 10) and Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) were voted onto the Providence Water Supply Board, replacing City Councilors Sabina Matos (Ward 15) and Michael Correia (Ward 6), who have moved into leadership positions on the City Council.

Ryan told WPRI/Channel 12 reporter Dan McGowan, ahead of the election last year, that, “I would be in favor of a sale or lease of the water system if and only if the following conditions are met: 1.) 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale are immediately deposited into the pension system. This way the state and all others can be assured that the approval of the sale will actually be utilized for shoring up the pension system and to ensure retirement security for our workers. 2.) 100 percent of the reduction to the city’s annual required contribution to the pension system, as a result of the increase in net proceeds from the sale, will be used to reduce tax rates across the board. 3.) We would need to insist upon appropriate controls to protect rate payers who are understandably concerned about sudden spikes in rates.”

Can we please ask a favor?

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Aponte told McGowan in 2017 that, “We need to be deliberate and thoughtful when considering the value of an asset of this size, and realize that this is a one-shot deal. I’m hesitant to endorse a plan that might leave desperately-needed dollars behind for the city because we did not explore every possible option when it came to the future of this precious asset.”

In their responses, neither city councilor expressed concerns about the potential hit to water quality that may result from the sale or lease of the water. They both talked only about the money, and now they are on the Providence Water Supply Board.

Three water companies, Poseidon Water, Veolia Water and Suez North America responded to Elorza’s RFQ. Details on the three offers are not known as yet. The Providence Water Supply Board was originally scheduled to hear from Elorza administration officials about the potential lease of Providence Water to a private company, but the meeting was cancelled Monday evebing and no reason was provided for the cancellation.

The Rhode Island Water Resources Board, cancelled their “due to a very short turnaround during the holidays from the 12/21 meeting.”

1b. ConvergenceRI

“In the last two months, ConvergenceRI has posed the question about clean water insecurity to numerous state Senators and Representatives, asking them if they have considered drafting future amendments to any ‘monetizing’ legislation that would protect clean drinking water access. The answers to date, unfortunately, have been: not yet. The political reality is that such preventive action has not yet registered on the legislative radar screen – or, for that matter, with news pundits and soothsayers, save for Steve Ahlquist of Uprise RI…”

Read: What we do not talk about when we talk about hope

2a. Invenergy

The Invenergy hearings at the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) continued this week. Invenergy is the company that wants to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the heart of the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island.

At issue this week, as it was last week, is need. On Wednesday, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer and the attorney for the Town of Burrillville, Michael McElroy, finished their cross-examination of Invenergy expert witness Ryan Hardy.

What we learned is that the New England region has more than enough energy in the current market to satisfy the needs of consumers. In fact, not only has ISO New England over purchased electricity every year, since Invenergy entered the market, the ISO routinely turns down energy from suppliers that could supply power if needed. (ISO New England is the nonprofit responsible for running the electrical grid.)

Invenergy provided the graphic table below per request of the EFSB. For the three FCAs conducted since Invenergy’s proposed power plant has entered the market (FCAs 10, 11 and 12), ISO New England has consistently purchased more power than has been needed.

But this chart tells only part of the story. What the chart does not show is the even larger amount of energy qualified to bid into the auction that was not picked up by ISO New England. In other words, there is a vast quantity of energy out there that the ISO could have, but did not purchase.

2b. Michael Blazer

ITEM! Who was seen hobnobbing with the political elite at the inauguration of Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena but Michael Blazer, doyen of the Chicago Bar Association and loyal vassal of Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky?

Johnston reached a deal with Invenergy to ship water via truck to the proposed power plant in Burrillville which will be used to cool the plant’s turbines and for other industrial purposes. Johnston is reselling Providence Water to do so and there is a case challenging this deal awaiting a decision in Rhode Island Superior Court. Johnston’s attorney in that case is Rhode Island Senator William Conley Jr (Democrat, District 18, East Providence), who sacrificed his endorsement from the Sierra Club over his unwavering support for Invenergy.

Polisena thanked Blazer for his presence at the inauguration.

Michael Blazer
2c. Access Roads and Aquifers

Invenergy has revealed that they are changing some of their plans for their power plant. Though they are presenting the change of plans as two unrelated issues, I wonder if perhaps they are connected.

  • The first issue is the access road. To get to the site where Invenergy wants to build their power plant, there is a road, currently owned by Enbridge Incorporated, which took over a compressor station in Burrillville previously owned by Spectra Energy. Enbridge denied Invenergy permission to use their road, so Invenergy was going to build its own access road parallel to the existing one.
  • The second issue is the aquifer, the underground water upon which many in Burrillville are dependent for their well water. The original plan, we learned this week, was for some part of construction to potentially impact the aquifer. Invenergy has altered their plans to avoid this.

In their filing with the EFSB, Invenergy maintains that they made the deal with Enbridge to use the existing road to satisfy the concerns of various Burrillville town officials and experts. However, since Invenergy has never seemed concerned with what Burrillville wants and only seems concerned with satisfying the letter of the law in order to get what they want, this conciliatory attitude feels false.

However, if the access road issue and the aquifer impact issue are related in some way, then Invenergy’s need to strike a bargain with Enbridge, perhaps for more money than Invenergy was originally willing to pay, makes more sense.

More on this as it develops.

2d. ProJo

Providence Journal Editorial Pages Editor Ed Achorn writes editorials from time to time slathering Invenergy’s proposed power plant project with oleaginous praise. His most recent such production, Arguing over need for plant (a title Achorn can reuse for the recreational marijuana debate) is particularly galling, and clearly demonstrates that Achorn is not following the EFSB proceedings closely, despite the fine reporting of the ProJo’s own Alex Kufner.

Achorn states as facts things that are in dispute, such as when he says, “The proposed Clear River Energy Center would provide the region power more efficiently with less pollution than existing plants. It would produce needed energy to replace that currently generated by older plants that are going offline.”

The whole reason for the EFSB to exist is to make such a determination. The evidence submitted so far seems weighted against Achorn’s bald-faced assertions and demonstrates an ignorance unbecoming of Rhode Island’s leading newspaper.

Achorn loves the ad hominem, as when he accuses opponents of “magical thinking” or implies that opponents are childish. This is the bullying tactic of people with no facts, only blind ideology.

There are literally a dozen problems with Achorn’s editorial, but I’ll leave off with one last. Achorn writes:

“Common sense also argues for a need. Think about it: Why would this company put $1 billion in private capital at risk if there was no market for the energy the plant would produce? Invenergy is still in the game, despite opponents’ delaying tactics, because it is certain the energy it creates will be purchased and its investors will be rewarded.”

This is ideological bullshit at its finest. Imagine me saying, “This movie must be good, despite all the critics and despite the fact that people hate it. Why would this studio invest hundreds of millions in private capital if there was no market for this movie?”

See how stupid that sounds?

2e. What kind of company is Invenergy?

According to Brent Scher at the Washington Free Beacon, “Pennsylvania Democrat Katie McGinty used her position in the governor’s office to help secure a $1.2 billion natural gas power plant for a campaign donor, according to email records from McGinty’s time in Governor Tom Wolf’s administration.”

The campaign donor in question is Michael Polsky, CEO of Invenergy.

One string of emails shows that McGinty was asked by a donor to help him obtain “public support” from the governor’s office for a project and that she was able to come through for him. Michael Polsky, who is CEO of Invenergy, emailed McGinty on April 18, 2015, to thank her for exhibiting a “willingness to help” on a major project he was hoping to build in Jessup, Pennsylvania.

“Thank you again for your time last night at the end of a busy day and for your willingness to help on the Lackawanna project,” Polsky wrote to McGinty. He went on to tell her that “any public support the governor’s office can show would go a long way.”

State records show that Polsky, an Illinois resident, had contributed $2,500 to McGinty’s unsuccessful 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

McGinty immediately forwarded Polsky’s email to Gov. Wolf, alerting him that this was a project she was taking on.

“Just to let you know I have staff looking into this. Thx,” McGinty wrote to Wolf. She also forwarded the email to Yesenia Bane, one of Wolf’s special assistants.

Invenergy’s power plant in Jessup, Pennsylvania was built over the objections of area citizens and environmental groups, and if Invenergy has their way, Burrillville will be similarly treated.

When someone tells you who they are, believe them

Read: Katie McGinty Helped Campaign Donor Obtain State Approval for Power Plant

2f. ecoRI

Great piece on the Invenergy hearings by Tim Faulkner of ecoRI.

Read: CLF: E-mail Contradicts Power Plant’s Expert Witness

3. Reproductive Rights

With the backing of more cosponsors than ever before, Representative Edith Ajello and Senator Gayle Goldin introduced legislation, H5127, to codify the protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law.

Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island (PPV!RI) stands by the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) and calls for a vote by the full House of Representatives on the RHCA as introduced.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, while talking about healthcare in her State of the State address, said, “And while we are talking about health care, let’s make this the year we codify women’s access to reproductive health care here in Rhode Island.”

Raimondo’s support drew immediate praise from the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (RICRF) and The Womxn Project.

On Thursday, the The Providence City Council, for the first time a majority woman city council, unanimously passed a resolution in favor of passing the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA).

“It is so important for us to value women’s reproductive rights,” said Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune  (Ward 3). “And it’s important for our state to codify Roe v Wade, especially with what’s happening at the national level. No person should have the right to tell anybody, a woman or person, however they identify, what to do with their reproductive organs, with their body.”

“I would like to state that [the RHCA] will also repeal outdated state laws that are no longer enforceable,” said Providence City Councilor Helen Anthony  (Ward 2). “Such as mandatory spousal involvement, possible imprisonment of abortion providers and no insurance for abortions. So this is critical.”

Meanwhile, a second bill to protect reproductive rights in Rhode Island, House Bill 5125, the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA), introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence), has come under criticism from the RICRF because, “it falls short of preserving the current legal framework for abortion in Rhode Island, as the Reproductive Health Care Act would.

“In fact,” continues the RICRF, “the RPA preserves two anti-choice measures previously recognized as unconstitutional: explicitly preserving a revised version of the state’s antiquated “quick child” law that conflicts with Roe v Wade’s definition of fetal viability, and implicitly preserving the state’s ‘Partial Birth Abortion Act’ which is unconstitutional and far exceeds the federal law. Because of these flaws, if Roe were to fall or be undermined at the federal level, the RPA would not adequately protect Rhode Islanders’ right to safe, legal abortion. Furthermore, the bill contradicts itself in areas, and uses vague language such as making the RPA subject to “all applicable federal and state law,” which could support attacks on reproductive rights by virtue of its open-ended ambiguity, making it difficult for courts to determine what is and what is not allowed.”

This bill may muddy the waters of the House enough to put passage of the RHCA in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, on the anti-choice side of the equation, “the diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry hosted the annual Human Life Guild Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on January 12, drawing a large crowd of Catholics to pray for respect for life as the nation nears the March for Life and the 46th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion.”

4. House Rules

The Rhode Island House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) passed their rules legislation with tiny reforms that point the way towards better government, but are merely the first step on a path filled with obstacles towards real reform.

I broke the entire three hour floor debate into tiny bite-size chunks, so people playing at home can quickly find their legislator and hear why they either support a system in which one person, Speaker Mattiello, controls the flow of legislation, or why they support changing that process in favor of a truly democratic process that doesn’t protect lobbyists and special interests.

For instance, here’s Representative Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick), who is also the chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, bombastically claiming that allowing legislators to carry discharge petitions with them for signatures will lead to corruption and backroom deals.

It’s hard to believe that McNamara actually believes this, but let’s take him at his word.

Representative Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick)

“It hurts to hear my colleague say that if we were not under the watchful eye of the dais that we would immediately be corruptible and bought by lobbyists,” replied Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence). “Additionally, I can see how listening to constituents can be a time consuming thing, but that’s literally what we signed up for.”

Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence)

During her last campaign, no one was hit harder by the Speaker than Moira Walsh, and no one hit back harder.

Make sure to consider these videos in the 2020 election cycle.

5. 2019 Rhode Island Small Business Economic Summit

It’s the most influential meeting you’ve never heard of, even though I’ve been following this thing for five years. Over the years, the Rhode Island Small Business Economic Summit (Summit) has shaped Rhode Island tax policy in a variety of ways, keeping the money in our economy flowing upwards and away from those in need. A short list of the Summit’s accomplishments includes: personal income tax reform, creation of the tax policy office in the Department of Revenue, state pension reform, property tax cap, corporate tax reform, estate tax reform, the repeal of franchise tax, increasing the direct expenses provisions to match federal limits, reducing minimum tax reporting dollars, enacting some property tax reform, car tax, providing tax relief for retirement income, holding the line on broad based tax increases, fighting back efforts to impose binding arbitration on labor agreements, and more.

But the Summit does more than that. It is the first voice in the corporate/business echo chamber. John Gregory, President of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, explains the process:

“One of the interesting things that does happen is not only are the recommendations that come out of this [Summit] listened to by the General Assembly, but by other business groups throughout the state. Could be Chambers of Commerce, or again, we have a lot of the members of the Rhode Island Business Coalition here today. So one of the things that makes us great is that we develop pretty much a common agenda so there is – where there might not be the most formalized voice for business at the State House, I think they keep hearing a lot of the same issues coming from different places. So I think that’s very very important for all of us.”

Ignore the Summit at your peril.

Grafton ECapWilley IV

Courtney Hawkins, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (RI DHS) held a press conference to let people receiving SNAP benefits, a federally funded food assistance program, know that the government shutdown in Washington is putting the program at risk. Money for February will be issued in January, there will be no February disbursement of funds. There will be no disbursement in March if Trump’s shutdown holds.

“We’re concerned that many more families will start visiting our pantries and meal sites beginning in February as they begin to run out of food,” said Rhode Island Community Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff. “Although we hope the shutdown ends soon, we need to be prepared to respond should it continue indefinitely.”

“We want to be prepared to provide food to anyone in need in Rhode Island, no matter what the reason, and no matter how long this crisis continues” said Schiff, “so we are asking our friends and neighbors to donate funds so that we can acquire enough food to help ensure that no one goes hungry.”

To make a donation or to find other ways to get involved, visit

Courtney Hawkins
7. Rachel Rene

“We are devastated by the domestic violence murder of Rachael Rene, which occurred in her Providence apartment yesterday and marks the first domestic violence homicide of 2019. Rachael was brutally stabbed by her boyfriend, Louis Motta, who surrendered himself to authorities shortly thereafter,” writes Tonya Harris, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Vanessa Volz, executive director of Sojourner House

Continue reading here.

8. Demanding Dignity campaign

An open letter from the Demanding Dignity campaign: “Rhode Island must make providing a significant pay increase for these employees a budget priority in 2019 to ensure the goal of increasing pay rates to a minimum of $15 an hour by October 1, 2020 is reached.”

Continue reading here.

9. 2020 Census

“Tuesday’s federal court decision blocking the inclusion of a citizenship question in the upcoming 2020 census comes as a victory for states, municipalities, and especially many immigrant communities, including Latinos,” writes the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

Read other reactions here.


“It is troubling that [real estate developer and former Providence Mayor Joseph] Paolino, whose real estate interests are affected by the Kennedy Plaza bus hub and who has been the main voice calling for a future with no bus hub downtown, also hired RIPTA board chair Wayne Kezirian last year to be a full-time employee of Paolino’s firm,” writes Randall Rose, from the RIPTA Riders Alliance. “In particular, it’s very odd that the new lawsuit by Paolino’s firms against RIPTA comes after current RIPTA chair Kezirian became the full-time lawyer for Paolino’s company.”

Continue reading here.

11. Common Cause Rhode Island

“Rhode Island is making good on its promise to road-test risk-limiting election audits, following 2017 passage of legislation by the Rhode Island General Assembly, requiring them. Beginning with the presidential primary in April 2020, Rhode Island will become the second state to require these audits to verify election results. A ‘risk limiting’ audit checks if the election result is correct. Specifically it checks the counting of the votes. A ‘risk-limiting’ audit limits the risk that the wrong election result will be certified. It can catch errors which change the result and correct a wrong result…”

Continue reading here.

12. David Cicilline

Joe Nocera at Bloomberg asks, “The Most Powerful Person in Tech Is … David Cicilline?

13. Use the microphone!

Erika A. Hewitt explains “What You’re Saying When You Say “I Don’t Need a Mic

Hint: It’s ableist.

14. Sissieretta Jones

Beth Comery, of the Providence Daily Dose explains, “How To Find Sissieretta’s Grave Site.”

15. Adult Entertainment Performance Tax

From the legislation:

“Nude” is defined to mean exposing to the public view the female breast or the female breast with a covering on the areola thereof; exposing to the public view by employing any device or covering which is intended to give the appearance or simulate that area of the female breast at or below the areola thereof; exposing to the public view male or female genitals, pubic area, anus,anal cleavage, or anal cleft; or exposing to the public view by employing any device or covering which is intended to give the appearance of or simulate the genitals, pubic area, anus, anal cleavage, or anal cleft.

16. Watchmen
17. Picture of the Week:
Activists against the proposed Invenergy power plant stand with signs at Mayor Joseph Polisena‘s inauguration where Governor Gina Raimondo was a no-show.

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.