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Why DEM granting Invenergy a draft air pollution control permit is no big deal…



As reported here, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has issued a draft air pollution control permit for the proposed Invenergy power plant for public review and comment. Invenergy is the company that wants to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amid the pristine, irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island.

This makes it seem as though the power plant is one inevitable step closer to being built, despite the environmental damage it will do locally, despite the fact that the power plant is completely unneeded, and despite the existential threat such power plants contribute to. But in truth, this draft permit is not so big a deal.

“This is neither a big deal nor unexpected,” said Jerry Elmer, Senior Attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the group that, along with the Town of Burrillville, has been opposing the power plant before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB). “Invenergy applied to DEM for its air permit years ago, and we have been expecting this draft permit for a long time. DEM still has to go through a fairly lengthy process before Invenergy can be given an actual, final permit.”

That process includes gathering comments from the public and a public hearing where the public can express their views in person to DEM representatives. The public will have some help in this from CLF.

“CLF is going to be active in the DEM air permitting process to oppose the granting of the final permit,” said Elmer.

Can we please ask a favor?

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The ultimate fate of Invenergy’s proposed power plant will not be decided by DEM. It will be decided at the EFSB. “CLF has always believed that the place where we stand the best chance of stopping Invenergy is at the EFSB,” said Elmer, “not at the DEM in connection with this air permit. In that context, we are looking forward to getting the EFSB’s decision. If/when the EFSB denies Invenergy a building permit, this whole business of the air permit at DEM will become moot.”

The EFSB will hold a series of “open meetings” to decide the fate of Invenergy’s proposed power plant on June 19, 20, 21, and 25.

Invenergy’s statements to the press make it seem as if the permit to build their proposed power plant is in the bag. For instance, Invenergy spokesperson Beth Conley called the draft project permit “a major milestone.” That’s far from the truth, said Elmer.

“Invenergy has talented public relations professionals that can make relatively minor events seems like big deals,” said Elmer. “Many of you will remember about a year ago when Invenergy announced that it had taken a few small soil samples from the location of its proposed interconnection line, Invenergy gave the impression that it was actually moving ahead with building the interconnection. But it wasn’t. Invenergy actually requires multiple permits before it can build an interconnection, and the separate EFSB docket pertaining to the interconnection has not even begun its Final Hearing, much less rendered a decision.

“This week Invenergy did something similar: Invenergy made it seem like DEM issuing a draft air permit shows that Invenergy is going to receive permits and get built. The long-awaited draft air permit means nothing of the kind. The EFSB remains to place where we hope to defeat Invenergy.”

On 12pm, Friday, May 31, Jerry Elmer will be speaking at the Cranston Central Library, 140 Sockanosett Cross Road. He will be talking about the Invenergy case, and what’s ahead. The event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP to Heather Greenwood at or 401-228-1902. If you have questions about the case, this would be a good time to get answers.

I’d also call your attention to this excellent piece by Tim Faulkner at ecoRI:

Clear River Energy Center Draft Air Permit Approved; Invenergy Struggles with Pollution at Penn. Power Plant

Faulkner writes:

“The fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville, RI, recently received a boost with pre-approval of a key air-pollution permit by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). But the developer, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, has had air-pollution problems at a natural-gas power plant it opened last year in Pennsylvania.

The Lackawanna Energy Center in Jessup, Pennsylvania, has violated air-pollution regulations since it began operations last spring and Invenergy hasn’t been forthcoming with the details.

Since May 2018 there have been at least six unreported releases of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in excess of state standards. NOx is linked to several health and environmental problems, such as respiratory illnesses.

Invenergy didn’t initially report the air-pollution releases to state officials….

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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 half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.