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Janet Coit’s reappointment as DEM Director opposed by environmental justice group NO LNG in PVD



“Janet Coit’s actions and decisions around National Grid’s application for the RIDEM permits required to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on Allens Avenue demonstrate either an inability or an unwillingness to fulfill her responsibilities to Rhode Island’s environment and inhabitants.”

The Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture met on Wednesday to consider the reappointment of Janet Coit as Director of the Rhode Island Department on Environmental Management (RIDEM). Coit has served in that role for nine years and is the only person to have served as Director of RIDEM under two governors, Lincoln Chafee and Gina Raimondo.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) sat in on the committee hearing and voted in favor of Coit’s reappointment being sent to the entire Senate for a vote. The committee vote was unanimous.

Coit spoke to the committee at length about her achievements while DEM Director. The committee remarks were all glowing, and the public testimony was all enthusiastically in her favor, except one:

Cristina Cabrera, who once headed up the Rhode Island Environmental Justice League, read a statement from No LNG in PVD campaign coordinator Monica Huertas opposing Coit’s reappointment. The letter is addressed to Senate Environment Committee Chair Susan Sosnowski (Democrat, District 37, Block Island, South Kingstown) and members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture.

Previous to Cabrera’s statement, Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown) asked Coit about environmental justice. “How do you see your role in the DEM being able to lead on those issues?” asked Euer.

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“That’s something that we’ve just had a retreat and talked about a lot,” said Coit. “Environmental justice issues are very much on the mind of DEM.”

“There is no time for our communities,” said Cabrera. “We cannot have an LNG facility, a liquified natural gas facility, in the state of Rhode Island. We cannot clean brown fields and then turn around and shove toxic [facilities] in Washington Park and South Side.”

Cabrera challenged Coit’s record on cleaner air quality, pointing out that the Washington Park area around the Port of Providence, where DEM approved a $180 million liquefaction facility for National Grid, to be paid for by ratepayers, is one of the highest asthma hot spots in New England.

“Children are constantly going to the emergency room for asthma,” said Cabrera. Walking in that area, said Cabrera, “I don’t see the parks. I don’t see the beautiful Rhode Island. Where are people living? Because if you go there you can’t even stand the smell.”

Here’s No LNG in PVD’s letter:

“Janet Coit’s actions and decisions around National Grid’s application for the RIDEM permits required to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on Allens Avenue demonstrate either an inability or an unwillingness to fulfill her responsibilities to Rhode Island’s environment and inhabitants.

“The construction and operation of the LNG facility poses grave risks to the natural and human environment, including risks to human and infrastructure safety through gas leaks and explosions, risks to human health through the disturbance of industrially polluted soil, risks to water and infrastructure due to the facility’s proximity to a flood zone, and the climate risks posed to the human and natural environment through the facilitation of extracting, exporting and burning fossil fuels. These risks were detailed and attested to during the permitting process by experts and members of the community, despite barriers to community participation.

“Members of the community had to demand a Public Involvement Plan (PIP) in order to have their concerns acknowledged by RIDEM. Once that PIP was in place, RIDEM continued to provide barriers to community participation by holding two out of three of the required community meetings in locations with a record of hostility and risk for residents of color (the Providence Public Safety Complex, which houses the Providence Police Department, whose history of racial and economic discrimination is sufficiently well documented to have necessitated the Providence Community-Police Relations Act and the Police External Review Board) or remote from the neighborhoods nearest to the proposed LNG facility site and with limited or costly parking (the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, a 20-minute drive from South Providence or Washington Park, the neighborhoods closest to the proposed facility). RIDEM, with Director Coit as its head, defended itself from the community in order to proceed with decisions that damaged the community. And while community members, despite these barriers, presented and supported their objection and lack of consent to the facility, RIDEM ignored these objections and approved both the Short Term Response Action Plan and the Water Quality Certification that allowed construction to proceed.

“Director Coit failed to exercise the opportunity to safeguard Rhode Islanders, including some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, and was willing to treat a working-class community of color already living in toxic conditions as a sacrifice zone for a polluting industry. Further, both the State of Rhode Island and the City of Providence have committed to drastic reductions in fossil fuel emissions in order to mitigate the effects of climate change—which poses unique threats to Rhode Island’s many coastal ecosystems and communities through sea level rise and storm surge, as well as high heat, food and water insecurity and infrastructure failure that will affect low-income communities of color first and worst. But RIDEM’s decisions, with Director Coit at the head, have enabled an increase in climate-warming emissions through the facilitation of the processing and sale of natural gas, as well as the energy costs of operating the facility itself. At the time at which the permits were issued, the LNG facility was projected to cost $180 million to build—a cost that would be passed on to ratepayers.

“Director Coit’s shortsighted approach to leadership and her narrow interpretation of the charge of RIDEM have put Rhode Island residents, Rhode Island infrastructure and the Rhode Island economy at unnecessary risk, and her appointment should not be renewed.”

The full video of Coit’s appearance before the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee will be added to this post when it finishes uploading later today.

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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.