LTE: Rhode Island needs real environmental action in 2020

Reps Speakman, Donovan, Cassar, Cortvriend, Carson

By Rep. June S. Speakman, Rep. Susan R. Donovan, Rep. Liana Cassar, Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Rep. Lauren Carson

In virtually all the predictions of what will be hot in the 2020 General Assembly session, there has been little mention of environmental policy. It is imperative that we make progress in 2020 on several fronts including plastics pollution, sea level rise, renewable energy, sustaining a clean water supply and waste management.

The foundation of Rhode Island’s economy —tourism, small business, boating, fisheries — depends on its policymakers looking beyond the current budget cycle and providing a reliable funding stream for these efforts. We also have the opportunity to recognize the innovation, growth and job creation that will come to our state when we embrace these priorities.

Our coastlines are being threatened by sea level rise. The Coastal Resources Management Council provides Rhode Island with maps predicting a changed shoreline in every coastal community.  We must improve the capacity of local communities to respond to these changes by offering education, technical assistance and funding to support resilience and adaption. There is no need to spend any more time questioning the probability of sea level rise. It’s happening.

Off the coast of Rhode Island is a sustainable resource that is becoming a driver of economic growth: wind power. Policymakers must seize the opportunity to ensure that this green industry has the support it needs to grow in a way that respects the needs of those who use the waters for fishing and boating.  Governor Raimondo’s mention of this in her State of the State address is a good sign, as is her commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

Rhode Island’s water supply needs long-term planning and policymakers’ attention. From the reservoirs close to the beach in Newport County, to the cross-bay pipeline that serves the East Bay, to the PFAS-polluted wells in Burrillville, our drinking water faces continued risk. The General Assembly must join with the governor to study these risks and provide stable, long-term funding to address them.

As we all know, Rhode Island faces a grave waste-management problem. The Central Landfill is nearing capacity; the town of Johnston cannot be expected to bear the burden of significant expansion. There is an easy mid-term solution here: produce less waste.  At relatively low cost, the state can lead the nation in cutting our waste significantly by limiting the distribution of single-use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam. We can also establish an aggressive statewide composting program to divert food waste and yard waste from the landfill to our renewed small-farming sector and our own home gardens.

All these issues require our policymakers’ immediate attention, stable funding and focused planning. If we are to protect our precious resources and secure a sustainable, healthy future for our beautiful state, the time to act is now.

Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) and Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) all represent coastal communities and share deep concern for the environment.


02871, Localblogging, environment, GA

RI Progressive Dems slam Invenergy Woonsocket water bid

ri_progdem.pngThe Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America announced their opposition to the potential water sale from Woonsocket to Invenergy, a Chicago based company proposing to build a fracked gas power plant known as the Clear River Energy Center. In a statement released late Wednesday, RIPDA also called for all RI Progressive Democrats to oppose the sale of water to Invenergy and to ask the Woonsocket City Council to oppose the pending sale as well.

The RIPDA Executive Board unanimously approved the opposition stating that the project is “not in the best interest of Woonsocket, northern Rhode Island, the state or the region. The potential sale of water to Invenergy will provide little to no benefit to the state or the region and may exacerbate existing drought conditions, produce higher potable water treatment costs, as well as increase health issues for those residents in the all along the Blackstone River watershed. Environmental injustice burdens small towns that don’t have the financial means to fight against well financed companies like Invenergy.” RIPDA also believes that the potential sale of water would reduce water flow and harm the existing and growing interest in the development of hydro systems which depend on a steady flow of water.

“In a time where alternative energy production sources are flourishing, to add a fracked gas power plant, destroy over 200 acres of second growth forest in an area hailed by environmentalists from all over New England is unconscionable. There is no substitute for clean drinking water or environmental diversity. This one power plant, according to Invenergy’s application submitted to the RI Energy Facility Siting Board on October 29, 2015, will use up to “one-million gallons of water” every day for the forty year life span of the power plant. Recent claims by Invenergy reduce the water consumption to as little as twenty-five thousand gallons per day. So we really don’t know how much water will be used by the power plant,” said Lauren Niedel, Deputy State Coordinator for RIPDA.

It is estimated that nearly 2 tanker trucks would cross the 17 miles every 6 minutes during a 12 hour time period, creating extra fiscal and environmental burdens on the region, a degradation of Woonsocket’s and North Smithfield’s roads, an increase of air and noise pollution and traffic congestion. The increase in particulate matter from both the fossil fuel power plant and the diesel fuel tanker trucks would worsen existing high asthma and other respiratory illnesses in the region. Woonsocket is one of  four “core cities” defined by the Rhode Island Department of Health where hospitalizations for asthma occur higher than state averages.

In addition RIPDA is in full support of the resolution by the  Burrillville Town Council opposing the siting of the power plant. The town already is home to a fossil fuel burning power plant - Ocean State Power - a gas compressor station owned by Enbridge Energy formally Spectra Energy and additional fossil fuel infrastructure. “This is a regional issue spilling over into Thompson, CT, Uxbridge, MA and elsewhere in those two states,” says Niedel.

RIPDA points to the Resilient Rhode Island Act and views the proposed fracked gas power plant as a direct contradiction to this 2014 Rhode Island law.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

02871, Localblogging, environment

"Week of action" takes aim at RI pipeline expansion (and the PUC)

Grassroots groups from four states along the proposed route of Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline expansion, which cuts through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, have joined together to host a coordinated “Week of Respect and Resistance”, with actions from December 13 through December 19 in opposition to the project, the groups said in a joint press release.  The project includes the expansion of  a compressor station in Burrillville which organizers note is already “a major source of hazardous air pollutants”, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee.
The actions are planned in anticipation of the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) due on or about December 19, 2014. The week of action will target local, state, and federal legislators and government agencies, all of whom have direct roles or influence in the approval of the project. These actions will build on the numerous rallies, vigils, meetings and call-in campaigns that have been happening across the states for the past several months, organizers said.
“We are calling this a Week of Respect and Resistance: respect, because it's important to honor the other struggles for justice that have come before us, and those that are taking place right now around the world. It's also time for Spectra and our elected officials to respect our power and respect our desire to see a world powered by community owned renewable energy,” FANG organizer Nick Katkevich explained.
Fossil Free Rhode Island, a grassroots group promoting divestment from fossil fuels, will kick off the week with an event on Saturday, December 13th, at the Alternative Food Co-op inWakefield, RI, to highlight the need to build a localized, worker-owned economy and rein in the power of multinational corporations that perpetuates fossil fuel dependence.
Fossil Free Rhode Island will follow up with a call-in campaign next week to ask elected officials and state agencies to intervene to stop the AIM project. 
Rhode Island groups will also be present at the meeting of the Public Utilities Commission next Tuesday, Dec. 16th, to protest the 23.6% electric rate hike proposed by National Grid, a corporation headquartered in London, Great Britain.  The meeting will be held at 10 am at 89 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick.
Visit this website for updates on the actions planned for Rhode Island:  http://peoplesclimate.org/rhodeisland/
Late last month, Fossil Free Rhode Island launched a campaign urging the Rhode Island Department of Health to block the expansion of the compressor station in Burrillville, citing elevated asthma rates in the surrounding area.  “We are outraged that Rhode Island’s political leaders — both Republicans and Democrats —are ignoring threats to our children’s health, and instead are siding with the fossil fuel industries,” said Tony Affigne, chair of the Green Party of Rhode Island, a signatory to the campaign. “This week will show the state’s leadership that people and the environment are more important than Spectra’s profit margin.”
Rhode Island Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club of Rhode Island, Occupy Providence, and the Voluntown Peace Trust have also signed on.  As Peter Nightingale, Professor of Physics at the University of Rhode Island, stated: “We need an immediate end to uncontrolled experiments that threaten public health in Rhode Island and the habitability of the planet.” 
Many elected officials in New York, including Congresswoman Nita Lowey, wrote to FERC requesting an independent risk assessment of a massive 42" new segment of pipeline that would run 105 feet from critical structures at the Indian Point nuclear facility.
Pipeline expert Rick Kuprewicz stated: "[I] cannot overstress the importance of performing a full and complete process hazard safety analysis, independently demonstrating, especially to the public, that there will be no interplay between a possible gas transmission pipeline rupture and the IPEC facilities to failsafe shutdown or cause a loss of radiation containment in such a sensitive and highly populated area of the country."   
“We are at a critical juncture. Expanding the Spectra Algonquin pipeline will lock us into a reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure for decades to come. Communities across the region are coming together to oppose this pipeline and call for clean energy alternatives, energy conservation and efficiency,” said Michelle Weiser, Community Organizer with Toxics Action Center. 
If approved, Spectra would begin construction as early as March 2015, and the project would be completed in November 2016. Another Spectra expansion, the Atlantic Bridge, is planned to follow right after the AIM Project with additional expanded segments of massive 42" diameter high-pressure pipeline and compressor station expansions, and a third project is also in the works.  
Organizers say that these expansions would be devastating to the entire northeast region and much of the gas would be shipped overseas to foreign markets. "If the governmental agencies fail us and approve this project, our nonviolent resistance will only escalate. This week will be a demonstration of our commitment to stop this pipeline at all cost," says Katkevich.
Groups involved with the action include: Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (NY); Sierra Club (CT); Greater Danbury MoveOn.org Council (CT); Capitalism v. The Climate (CT); Occupy Danbury (CT); Fighting Against Natural Gas (RI); Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion (RI); Fossil Free Rhode Island (RI); Green Party of Rhode Island (RI); Occupy Providence (RI); Toxics Action Center (MA & RI); Mothers Out Front; No New Fracked Gas Infrastructure in West Roxbury, Dedham, or New England (MA); Flood Boston (MA) and Better Future Project (MA).

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

02871, Localblogging, environment

ALT to host panel on local water resources

14oct16_ALT.jpgThe Aquidneck Land Trust will be hosting a panel on the challenges — and solutions — related to Aquidneck Island's water resources next week at Salve Regina University. The free, two-hour event will be held on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 6pm in the Young Building, 518 Bellevue Ave. Here's their description:

More than ever before our newspapers are filled with articles concerning beach closures, significant storm events, the impacts of climate change and sea level rise, and new water treatment facilities. What does all this mean to you and our children? Come hear the experts talk about various water resource issues, challenges and solutions on Aquidneck Island such as the state water quality regulations each city and town must follow, the efforts being taken to better understand water quality issues from the source - at our front doors - to the coastal waters, the new treatment facilities being brought online to address water quality issues, the green infrastructure projects being proposed, and coastal management issues as we being to address resiliency in the age of sea level rise.

Joe O’Conner, General Manager, Rhode Island Public Radio/RI’s NPR (Moderator)
Elizabeth Scott, Deputy Chief, RI Department of Environmental Management, Office of Water Resources
Julia Forgue, Director of Utilities, City of Newport
Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy and Policy, Save The Bay
David McLaughlin, Executive Director, Clean Ocean Access;
Arthur Gold, Professor and Chair of the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, University of Rhode Island
Charles B. Allott, Esq., Executive Director, Aquidneck Land Trust

You can RSVP with Jessica Pohl at jpohl@ailt.org or 401.849.2799 x 18

For more information, visit www.AquidneckLandTrust.org

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

02871, Localblogging, ALT, environment

DA drops criminal charges against Brayton blockaders

Bristol County DA Sam Sutter holds a copy of Bill McKibben's article. Photo credit: Peter Bowden.

In one of the most delightfully unexpected twists in a US courtroom since Miracle on 34th Street, the Bristol County District Attorney, Sam Sutter, dropped criminal charges against two men who had used a lobster boat to block a coal shipment at the Brayton Point power station and promised to join them at the People's Climate March in New York in two weeks.

"Political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking," Sutter said, in video taken at the press conference this morning outside the Fall River District Court where he announced the deal which dropped the criminal charges in favor of civil infractions with restitution to the towns affected. Sutter went on to say that he was pleased to have reached an agreement that "symbolizes our commitment at the Bristol County District Attorney's office to take a leadership role on this issue."

"I certainly will be in New York in two weeks," he said. He showed the assembled media a copy of Rolling Stone featuring an article by climate activist Bill McKibben urging people to attend the People's Climate March on September 21.

This afternoon, the Better Future Project, which had been organizing support for the two climate activists through the web site Lobster Boat Blockade.org, sent a release to media with the background and responses from the two men.

In May 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara used a small white lobster boat, the Henry David T, to block a shipment of 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, MA, the largest coal plant in New England. They were charged with conspiracy, disturbing the peace and motor vessel violations and faced up to several years in jail.

Ken and Jay had sought to become the first American climate activists to use a “necessity defense”, arguing that the blockade was necessary in light of the imminent threat of climate change. They had planned to call former NASA climatologist James Hansen and environmentalist Bill McKibben to the stand as expert witnesses.

“The truth is that taking these sorts of actions is necessary in light of the drastic news that continues to be described by the science. This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” said Jay O'Hara, a Quaker.

“By dropping the criminal charges against us and stating that ‘political leadership on this [climate] issue has been gravely lacking,’ DA Sutter in effect accepted our necessity defense. The climate crisis is so terrible and so fast that it overwhelms ordinary political avenues. Even now, as the West Antarctic ice shelf is in unstoppable collapse, the Brayton Point plant is increasing the amount of coal it burns. Protest works, indeed protest maybe the only thing that can save us,” said Ken Ward.

Ken and Jay’s blockade sparked a summer of action at the Brayton Point, including the arrest of 44 people at the gates of the plant in July 2013. Last fall, the owners announced the closure of Brayton Point in 2017.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

02871, Localblogging, climate change, environment

WMO features future weather forecasts in runup to Climate Summit

The World Meteorological Organization, to help build awareness of the local impacts of climate change, solicited fictional weather reports from the year 2050 from around the globe, and will be hosting the videos on their YouTube channel all month, according to a post on their web site. Here's the teaser:

The Climate Summit will take place at the United Nations on Sept. 23.

The weekend before, on Sunday, Sept. 21, several hundred thousand people are expected to participate in the People's Climate March in New York, calling on the world leaders attending the Summit to take action.

If you're interested in participating, buses will be running from Rhode Island to the event.

02871, Localblogging, climate change, environment