The ongoing rash of fossil fuel industry related disasters would be comical if it weren’t deadly serious. Trains loaded with gas and oil derailing and exploding, chemicals for treating coal spilling into West Virginia’s water supply, coal ash from Duke Energy leaking into a North Carolina river, fracking earth quakes and water pollution; the list is getting depressingly long. Given the ugly backdrop, you’d think fossil fuel companies would be having a tough time getting any new projects approved.
But we don’t live in a rational world, we live in a business-dominated world where the people (and by people I mean corporations) with the most money get what they want. So it was disappointing but unsurprising when the State Department released an industry influenced Environmental Impact Assessment of the northern half of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline that said the project wouldn’t make things worse for the climate. The argument goes that the tar sands will be extracted and burned anyway. Similarly, it’s unsurprising that an expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline that brings natural gas from the fracking wells of Pennsylvania up to the Northeast (and through RI) is expected to be approved without a second thought. This is what Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy looks like in practice, expediting the construction of fossil fuel industry infrastructure whenever possible. Locally, rather than debate the wisdom of the Algonquin pipeline, we drag our feet waiting for someone else to take the lead on offshore wind.
Chomsky is right that if the United States doesn’t take the lead on efforts to address climate change, then it’s a lost cause. With Washington, D.C. as dysfunctional as it is, the question is whether we can do something about it closer to home. The answer is yes.
For starters, we can turn the narrative on the two issues I’ve mentioned so far. Let’s make a stink about natural gas expansion in New England. Here’s a petition to oppose the Algonquin expansion. We can do better. The wind that blows off our coast is some of the strongest and most consistent in the world, and it’s right next to the massive East Coast energy market. We should be embracing offshore wind and making the case that Rhode Island is the logical hub for this incipient industry. The Block Island Wind Farm is just the beginning of what’s possible.
Additionally, the State can show leadership on climate by joining the City of Providence in committing to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies. Here’s the petition for State divestment. There are going to be other important initiatives before the General Assembly this session. Representative Art Handy (Chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee) is going to be introducing a climate bill that would allow us to catch up to Connecticut and Massachusetts in terms of our carbon emissions goals, and it will go a step farther by creating policies to help our communities with climate adaptation. It’s also shaping up to be the year that RIPTA gets financial help, and this will help us address our transportation sector emissions. There will again be a bill to reinstate the renewable energy tax credit for residential renewable projects, which you can support here. Most significantly in the near term though is a bill that would make permanent and expand the State’s Distributed Generation pilot program, which has been very successful in promoting some of the larger scale commercial renewable projects that have been installed locally. These are all steps in the right direction, and I’m optimistic in each case.
Let’s hope the rest of the United States will be like us, and we can step back from the cliff.