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The Uprising, February 8, 2019



“So as a matter of substance, it turns out that Invenergy’s witness was wrong, CLF’s witness was right, and yes, just as CLF’s witness has said all along, this is a uniquely bad place to locate a new power plant.”

Jerry Elmer, Conservation Law Foundation senior attorney

To paraphrase Airplane!‘s Lloyd Bridges, it looks like Invenergy picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

1a. Invenergy

It was a bad week for the power plant company, and as usual, it was of their own making.

One week earlier Invenergy had their expert witness, Jason Ringler from the consulting firm ESS Group, on the stand tearing apart the testimony of Scott Comings, associate director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). At issue was forest connectivity. Invenergy wants to build its power plant in the middle of the forests in Burrillville, in a place that Comings called a “pinch point,” a narrow area where various species traverse the forests. Invenergy’s power plant would close this pinch point. Comings compared the corridor to a river. A pinch point is where the river narrows. Invenergy’s power plant would act as a dam. Without this narrow corridor, many species would be unable to eat, mate or even exist at all.

Comings called the area the “best example left of this kind of habitat between Boston and Washington DC.”

Ringler disagreed. Looking at The Nature Conservancy’s own data, Ringler determined that the area where Invenergy wants to locate the power plant is already degraded and that existing roads have already blocked wildlife. Ringler supposed that some mitigation strategies might improve the area, but that Invenergy’s power plant would not impose any additional burdens.

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But here’s the problem: When Scott Comings took the stand this Thursday, he time and again showed that Ringler had misread, misinterpreted and misrepresented the data Ringler secured from The Nature Conservancy. Ringler maintained that the data had changed between 2016 and 2018. It had not. Ringler maintained that the maps he produced were more accurate than the maps produced by The Nature Conservancy. They were not. The maps were produced by Ringler’s firm ESS using the same data sets as The Nature Conservancy maps. Th new maps were merely re-colored and differently labeled.

But the bomb drop came when it was revealed that Ringler’s employer, ESS, accessed some data from The Nature Conservancy under false pretenses, pretending that they were interested in environmental conservancy, not in building a power plant. When asked, Comings said that The Nature Conservancy would have supplied the information had ESS been upfront and honest about their reasons for accessing the data. “We are an organization that freely shares our information. We’re not into games of hiding information,” said Comings.

But the data would have been released with many caveats, said Comings. The data had not been peer reviewed. The data had not been ground truthed, that is, verified in the field. And the data was released with the warning that “major decisions” should not be made based on it.

Testifying before the EFSB a week earlier, Ringler mentioned none of this. When asked point blank by EFSB member Janet Coit, who also serves as the director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, if the data he was using was publicly available on The Nature Conservancy’s public portal, Ringler said it was.

1b. Invenergy lies

Invenergy has lied consistently,” said Jerry Elmer, who is leading the CLF charge against the power plant. “They have lied to the public about the ratepayer impacts and supposed benefits. They have lied to the EFSB. They’ve lied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in matters pertaining to this plant in specific. So what we brought out today about Invenergy’s hired consultant lying in an effort to get information from The Nature Conservancy, fits in to that broader, overall narrative that this is not a company that can be trusted. Even if the plant were needed, which it isn’t, even if there were not unacceptable climate impacts, which there are, even if this were not a uniquely bad place to put a power plant, which now we know it is… Invenergy is not the kind of company that is sufficiently honest, trustworthy and forthcoming to be granted a license to build a power plant.”

1c. ISO New England

As if being caught in yet another falsehood wasn’t bad enough, the elephant in the room during Thursday’s EFSB hearing were the results of ISO New England‘s Forward Capacity Auction, which showed, once again, that not only is Invenergy’s $1 billion frack gas and diesel oil burning boondoggle not needed, but that regional electrical power rates are dropping as the graph below from Jason Olkowski demonstrates:

Energy rates and providers are determined three years in advance by ISO New England through an annual series of Forward Capacity Auctions. Power companies bid into these auction and upon being chosen are granted Capacity Supply Obligations, promises to provided a certain amount of power at predetermined prices on demand.

Invenergy was not allowed to compete in the 2019 auction by ISO New England. But even without Invenergy in the market, ISO New England was able to lock down all the electricity it needed, plus over a thousand megawatts extra, for the lowest prices in five years.

“The preliminary results from ISO-NE’s Forward Capacity Auction 13 clearly show that there is no need for Invenergy’s new massive 1,000 MW gas fired power plant to meet Rhode island’s or the regions energy needs,” said Burrillville Town Manager Michael C. Wood.

1d. Invenergy Strikes Back

All this bad news has not stopped Invenergy from pursuing their dream of licensing an unneeded, environmentally destructive power plant plant in northwest Rhode Island. Instead, Invenergy has issued a motion to strike the testimony of CLF‘s expert witness Robert Fagan on the grounds that it is not relevant. Fagan presented testimony that Invenergy’s power plant is not needed to keep the lights on in Rhode Island in short, medium or long-term. Fagan used ISO New England data to support his conclusions.

“Robert Fagan’s testimony was that there is no short-, medium-, or long-term need for Invenergy’s fracked gas and diesel fuel plant. CLF understands why Invenergy feels threatened by that testimony – it was mostly based on ISO data,” said CLF Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer. “Invenergy knows that its proposed plant is not needed and that the people of Rhode Island oppose paving over a forest to build a fossil fuel plant. Invenergy’s motion shows Invenergy’s weakness, and CLF is confident that the EFSB will deny Invenergy’s motion.”

1e. The bad guys know what they are…

“I’ve seen your resume and it’s really impressive,” said Burrillville Attorney Michael McElroy to Invenergy expert witness George Bacon at the Energy Facilities Siting Board hearing on Tuesday. “You have a tremendous amount of experience working with power plants, correct?”

“I do,” replied Bacon. “It doesn’t make you very popular at parties, let me tell you.”

The room broke out in laughter.

1f. Sheldon Whitehouse

One of the enduring mysteries surrounding the four year long battle over the proposed fracked gas and diesel oil burning Invenergy power plant is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island)’s refusal to take a stand against it. Whitehouse styles himself the leading Senate voice on combating climate change and combating the lies of the fossil fuel industry, yet says nothing about the actions of companies like Invenergy in his home state.

Initially Whitehouse supported building the power plant, but after every single environmental group in Rhode Island came out against it, he modified his position to being neutral.

At a recent Brown University mini-conference on climate denial Whitehouse gave a keynote address talking about the necessity of good science being used to combat the Climate Change Counter Movement (CCCM), funded by dark money from fossil fuel companies. Whitehouse said that the work of the roughly 100 academics who study dark money and the CCCM needs to be amplified and that “we need to get that work out” to the public.

Science is a double edge sword, and evidence presented at the conference that may show why Whitehouse is reluctant to speak out against fossil fuel projects in his own state.

The entire conference is available to view here.

1g. Sunrise Rhode Island

Sunrise Rhode Island students asked Senator Whitehouse to sign a pledge forswearing money from the fossil fuel industry. “I have a pledge right here that if you want to…”

“I don’t do that kind of stuff,” said Whitehouse.

“It’s in line with your…”

“My response will stand,” interrupted Whitehouse. “I don’t do like, random pledges.”

1h. New Green Deal

United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat, New York) and Senator Ed Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts) have released their New Green Deal legislation.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse isn’t embracing the idea. He told Bloomberg Environment reporter Dean Scott:

“I fear that those forces that vehemently oppose climate action and are constantly up to no good around here will take every opportunity to try and use something like this to divide us—when in fact there’s enormous agreement that something big needs to be done on climate. But we’re more likely to do it and win and be effective if we stay united and work with each other rather than get into the usual Democratic circular firing squad.”

Will climate leader Sheldon Whitehouse be comfortable being known as the Neville Chamberlain of climate change?

1i. David Cicilline

1j. Water

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Toxics Action Center have filed a petition to push the State of Rhode Island to adopt new drinking water standards that protect the public from the dangers of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Without a new standard, public water systems in the state are not required to regularly monitor for PFAS compounds or to treat water with unsafe levels of these toxic substances.

2. Solemnization of Marriage

State Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence) has introduced a bill, H5238, that would take away the power of some Rhode Island General Assembly legislators to pass judgement on marriages they disapprove us, preventing the institutionalized bigotry currently on display.

For the LGBTQ community, a bill like Kazarian’s will prevent members of the General Assembly from treating their marriages in a second-class fashion. Since Marriage Equality passed in Rhode Island, both chambers of the General Assembly have separated out those solemnization of marriage bills that appear to be for same sex couples and passed the bills separately.

Doing this allows certain legislators, notably Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) in the House and Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston) in the Senate, to abstain or vote no on these marriages. To get a feel for how this works, see here and check out this video:

Testimony on the bill during the House Judiciary Committee brought out many other issues that would be corrected by changing the system. Right now solemnization can only be done when the General Assembly is in session, and we have a part-time legislature that is active for about six months a year.

Steve Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, noted that at least twice solemnization of marriage bills have been held hostage to force deals on other legislation.

The best testimony of the evening was from Ange Strom-Weber, who called the current system “degrading.”

“I’m here as someone who is getting gay married,” said Ange Strom-Weber in her testimony before the committee. She and her fiance originally wanted her boss to marry them but ultimately decided to hire a registered officiant. “One reason is that the current practice of separating the gay solemnizations from the straight ones is degrading, and like any bride in the world I just want my wedding to be perfect, not separate but equal, because separate is never really equal.”

3. June Speakman

June Speakman soared to victory Tuesday evening in the House District 68 Special Election Democratic Primary, capturing more nearly 75 percent of the vote in an unofficial count. Her challenger was Richard Ruggiero. Speakman now moves on to a March 5 Special Election against Libertarian William Hunt Jr, Independent James McCanna III and Independent Representative Kenneth Marshall, a former Democrat and the incumbent, kind of.

4a. Rethinking Substance Use

In an oped, Lisa Peterson, a licensed therapist with over twenty years of experience helping individuals with substance use disorders and co-chair of the Substance Use Policy Education, and Recovery PAC, used the House 68 Democratic Primary Forum between Speakman and Ruggiero to discuss issues around the opioid crisis. She challenged Ruggiero’s assertion, made during the forum, that legalizing cannabis would cause serious health problems for people in the state.

“This debate was more than a mere difference of opinion. Mr Ruggiero’s perspective is, unfortunately, still shared by many in our legislature and our communities,” writes Peterson. “In fact, studies have shown that opioid use and related overdose rates are lower in states where cannabis has been legalized….

4b. Opioid Warnings in Pharmacies

The House Corporations Committee heard a bipartisan bill, H5184, introduced by State Representatives Justine Caldwell (Democrat, District 30, East Greenwich) and Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester) that would, “require that pharmacies display a notice of warning regarding use of opioids and/or other schedule II controlled substances compiled by the department of health relating to the overuse, misuse and mixing with other drugs and/or alcohol.”

The bill was supported by the co-chairs of the Substance Use Policy Education and Recovery PAC, Lisa Peterson and Haley McKee.

Full coverage and video is available here.

5. Voter ID

The evidence is in on Voter ID laws in Rhode Island, and as opponents of the measure have known all along, the law has a significant, negative impact on voting. The law disenfranchises the poor and the young the most.

Since Rhode Island passed a Voter ID law in July 2011 there’s been a debate as to whether or not the legislation has hurt voter turnout. Now, with nearly a decade of data, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has released a new study, “Effects of Photo ID Laws on registration and turnout: Evidence from Rhode Island” that shows that “[t]urnout, registration, and voting conditional on registration fell for those without licenses after the law passed.”

Further, the researchers, Francesco Maria Esposito, Diego Focanti and Justine S. Hastings, found no “evidence that people proactively obtained licenses in anticipation of the law,” nor did they “find that they substituted towards mail ballots which do not require a photo ID.”

6. Tax Cuts for the Rich, and the Dead

We can’t afford Medicare, but we can afford to keep cutting taxes on the rich, even if they’re dead.

There is bipartisan support for eliminating the estate tax in Rhode Island, because the axis of power in this state doesn’t run along party lines, it runs along class.

The piece I wrote also serves as an introduction to the way the estate tax works. By the way, you only pay the estate tax when you die.

7. Sex Work

The mission of Decriminalize Sex Work – a new national organization with offices in Austin, New York City, and Washington DC – is “to end the prohibition of prostitution in the United States.” The organization’s national strategy is to inform the public about the harms caused by prohibition, with a focus on lobbying state governments to remove penalties for adult prostitution and all other forms of consensual sex work if conducted in private.

The group plans to introduce legislation in Rhode Island to decriminalize sex work.

8. 2020 Census

“As representatives of Pawtucket, we are deeply concerned about this process and its implications,” write Pawtucket City Councilor Meghan Kallman (District 5) and Senator Sandra Cano (Democrat, District 8, Pawtucket) in an oped. “Asking questions about citizenship de-incentivizes participation, which has very negative effects for Rhode Island and communities like Pawtucket. But even if the census question is reinstated, we have a request to our constituencies: please fill out the census anyways.

9. Reproductive Health Care Act

Nancy Green has an oped in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act.

“Supporting the right to safe and legal abortion without interference or shame is not the same as being enthusiastically pro-abortion. Of course it is better to prevent unwanted pregnancy. And the anti-abortion people are dishonest when they blur the distinction between unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. Almost half of pregnancies are unplanned. It’s an unwanted pregnancy that’s a crisis…

10. Pie-Corner Talks

New episodes of The Womxn Project Pie-Corner Talks podcast hosted by Jennifer Rourke.

  • Episode 2: No Shame – Today we are talking with Tiara Mack from the Women’s Health & Education Fund, along with a couple of newly-introduced bills of special interest to Rhode Island women.
  • Episode 3: No to Blackface – Your Master Baker, Jennifer Rourke talks with former State Senator Jeanine Calkin on a range of issues and discussion of bills including the RHCA Judiciary Hearing and an editorial on Virginia’s Governor in black face.

11. The Public’s Radio

Ian Donnis writes, in Legislative Jobs For District 15 Voters Have Multiplied During Mattiello’s Time As RI Speaker:

“The number of patronage jobs from House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s Cranston district has almost tripled during Mattiello’s time as speaker. Patronage jobs are one of the tools that a legislative leader like Mattiello can use to reinforce his own political power at the Statehouse…

12. The Providence Daily Dose

Beth Comery writes, in Spotlight On Councilman Luis Aponte:

“Well, the rosy glow cast by last autumn’s “pink wave” sure has faded. The promise that the first-ever majority-female Providence City Council might usher in a more progressive and enlightened way of doing things has since been buried under a red tide sludge of punitive committee assignments. (Sound familiar? See also: Speaker Mattiello.)…

13. EcoRI

Tim Faulkner, in New Bills Ban Plastic Straws, Food Packaging Chemicals:

“Sen. Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, introduced a bill (S202) that prohibits restaurants from providing single-use plastic straws, unless requested. Restaurants may offer straws made of paper, pasta, sugar cane, wood, or bamboo. Each violation incurs a $25 fine, not to exceed $300 in a year. The state director of health would enforce penalties…

14. Brown War Watch

Please join Brown War Watch on February 11th, at 5:30 PM in Friedman Auditorium at 190 Thayer Street on Brown’s campus for a screening of The Nuns, the Priests and the Bombs, a documentary about daring Catholic anti-nuclear activists. A panel will follow featuring the film’s director, Helen Young, investigative journalist Alex Nunes, and activist Frida Berrigan. Admission is free.

15. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

Two new interviews from Bill Bartholomew:

16. The College Hill Independent

Peder Schaefer, Deb Marini and John Graves write in All In: Rhode Island legalizes sports betting:

“Ronny first came to what is now Twin Rivers Casino in Lincoln, RI—then a race track called Lincoln Downs—when he was nine years old to bet on horses with his dad. He came a lot when he was younger, and now that he’s a 59 year-old retired painter he comes more. Ronny arrives at Twin Rivers every day around 11 a.m. and leaves close to midnight. Except on Tuesday. The horses don’t run on Tuesday. ‘Gamblers are funny,’ he said, fidgeting with his glasses. ‘They don’t care about the atmosphere…

Harry August writes in Plugging the Drain: Getting Millennials to “#ChooseRI”

“Rhode Island is worried about its size, and for good reason. Absent a mass migration to the Ocean State before the 2020 census, Rhode Island will lose one of its two seats in the US House of Representatives, placing it in the company of the Dakotas, Alaska, Wyoming and three other states with one lone statewide representative. (It didn’t help that former Governor Lincoln Chafee announced his plans to move to Wyoming last week, even if he was just dodging estate taxes.)…

17. The Rhode Island Liberator

Samuel Gifford Howard writes in The Jedi Order should stay dead:

“Let’s just come out and say it: the Jedi Order was bad, and they should die with Luke. Rey should not revive them in Episode IX….

18. Senate Rules

Just as I was finishing up this draft I got an email about the new Senate Rules proposed by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. This is a rapidly developing story that I will be covering.

Here’s State Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence)’s release on this.

Here’s Rhode Islanders for Reform with their take on the issue.

19. Picture of the week:

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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.

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