Washington Park community members and allies speak out against environmental racism during Shell Oil air pollution permit hearing

Monica Huertas, No LNG in PVD
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The public hearing highlighted environmental racism and the danger to the health and wellbeing of the surrounding communities.

Shell Oil Products, located at 520 Allens Avenue in Providence is seeking to renew their Title V Operating Permit, basically a license to pollute our air to a degree deemed safe by State and Federal regulators. Shell is one of many companies that routinely stores dangerous fuels and chemicals in the Port of Providence, located in the Washington Park area of South Providence, a community of mostly low-income people of color. The people there bear the brunt of the chemicals spewed into the air. For instance, in their letter to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Monica Huertas, executive director of No LNG in PVD and Washington Park resident and Linda Perri, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association, note that:

“As a state, Rhode Island is ranked ninth highest asthma rate in the country by having 10.9 percent of the population suffering from asthma compared to the national average of 8.4 percent. While Rhode Island as a whole is ranked ninth highest asthma rate in the nation, Providence has the highest asthma rate in the state with 13.7 asthma emergency department rates per 1000. Maps prepared by the Rhode Island Department of Health rank the neighborhoods directly impacted by Shell Terminal’s pollution, Washington Park and South Providence, as having the highest indices of asthma. Asthma impacts the health, education and income of families.”

Renewing the air permit for a company like Shell is an easy, rubber stamp process for the company. But due to the efforts of Huertas and Perri, DEM’s Office of Air Resources was compelled to hold a public hearing, so residents could directly present their concerns to the agency. The hearing was held at the Community College of Rhode Island in Providence.

The air pollution permit permit under review at the DEM’s Office of Air Resources “consolidates all applicable air pollution control requirements for the stationary source into a single federally enforceable document and clarifies all applicable requirements including emission limitations, operating, monitoring, testing, recordkeeping and reporting requirements,” said David DelSesto, Principal Air Quality Specialist at DEM, who acted as “hearing officer” for the event.

Also attending the meeting from DEM was Ruth Gold, Supervising Air Quality Specialist, and Laurie Grandchamp, Office of Air Resources Chief.

Here is the testimony of all who spoke at the hearing:

Paul Roselli, from the Burrillville Land Trust, told the DEM that they have the power to enforce stricter air quality standards.

“You’ve got to think about the whole implication,” said environmentalist Greg Gerritt. “These are the kinds of things where we just keep rubber stamping them over and over and over and over and over and over and we never get to where the communities are clean. The fact that you do this and you hold sham hearings is just kind of pathetic. The DEM should be actually protecting the public health and I don’t think you’re doing that today.”

“It’s my understanding that Shell Oil is currently being sued by the Conservation Law Foundation, that there’s a lawsuit in process, and the damage that they’re doing, both in the short and the long term, to the local environment and to the climate at large is the subject of this suit,” said environmental activist Kate Schapira. “What I would like to ask the Department of Environmental Management is – Can you do your job in a way that protects the people of this state? Are you legally allowed to do your job in a way that protects the well-being, the short-term and long-term well-being, of the environment, which includes the people of this state?

“Because if you can then I want you, and my neighbors want you, and my family wants you, and my friends want you, to look harder for more ways to do it … and if you can’t. then it’s time for the people of this state change the law and you are also among the people of this state who should be hoping to work to change that law.”

“You should be able to live near your job and ride your bicycle back and forth to work without dying of asthma,” said Melissa Jenkins. “I really felt like it was making me sick and there are a lot of people in this room and a lot of people who are not in this room because they’re working, who can’t move and who are sick. Their children are sick. They’re going to the hospital for asthma at higher rates than anywhere else in the state and we know this. You know this. How can you continue to let these companies operate?”

“I’ve watched this community have to fight over and over and over again for basic health basic health in their neighborhoods,” said climate activist Kendra Anderson. “I sat at hearings for the proposed, and now, I guess, going forward LNG facility and I listened to a mom [testify]. It was really impactful and really got me in the gut. [It was] about putting her children to bed every night and putting them to bed knowing that they were in a neighborhood that wasn’t the safest or the healthiest.

“Why should this neighborhood, in all of Rhode Island, take on the impact of one company after another company after another company of danger?”

Monica Huertas gave the first part of her testimony in Spanish, with the help of a translator.

“The reason that I’m speaking Spanish is because now, you’re in my community,” said Heurtas. “You’re in my community, I want you to know you’re in my community.

“I want you to know that we’re always going to say No here because you’re giving this to companies that have money and because they have money you’re allowing it. And I want you to know that here in our community, we’re always going to say No.”

Linda Perry of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association:

Erik Andrade:

Sally Mendzela:

Peter Nightingale, from Nature’s Trust RI. Here’s some of his written testimony.

Fromer Rhode Island State Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick):

Andrew Poyant:

David Veliz from the Sierra Club and Progreso Latino:

Jesus Holguin of the Environmental Justice League:

Janice:

Paul Tavarez:

Vatic Kuumba:

Daniel Calkin:

Joe Leclair:

“So thank you to me, and to No LNG, for putting this on,” said Monica Huertas. “Because it wasn’t them, let me tell you. We petitioned them to have this hearing y’all.”

Wrap-up:

David DelSesto and Ruth Gold

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About Steve Ahlquist 1052 Articles
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.atomicsteve@gmail.com