The Fields Point Liquefaction Facility project takes advantage of, and will increase problems with economic inequality and economic injustice related to energy. First and foremost, the massive $100 million price tag for construction will be passed onto consumers as an added charge. National Grid tries to hide this fact by saying “the cost of the natural gas commodity on a customer’s bill is a pass through cost. This project will allow National Grid and other companies who use the Fields Point facility to supply domestic LNG at a more stable cost.” But “pass through cost” means they pass that cost through to us, and there is no guarantee that prices of domestic fracked gas will be any more stable than prices of internationally sourced LNG. If anything, the international prices of LNG have been steadily declining while domestic fracked gas prices are at historic lows and likely to increase as the industry builds LNG export terminals and fracked gas power plants that increase demand and lead to rising prices. There are existing plans and proposals to connect the Spectra Pipeline (the source of the fracked gas for this facility) (See: here and here) to an LNG export facility in Canada and to build a massive 900 MW power plant in Burrillville, RI that would be powered by gas from Spectra’s “Algonquin” pipeline.
Despite the industry’s claims of needing to build these projects to lower prices, with power plants and other major purchasers getting preferential treatment with locked in prices in long term contracts, individual consumers in Rhode Island will see rising gas prices for home heating and cooking. The $100 million construction costs for the liquefaction facility will be added on top of the price of gas, and collectively we are the ones who will end up paying the bill. On a purely economic level, the proposed facility does not make sense and will be locking us into further dependency on fracked gas.
Income and wealth inequality in Rhode Island means increasing gas prices won’t impact everyone equally. There are only four municipalities in RI that qualify as high poverty “core cities”, with childhood poverty rates over 25 percent – Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket. Providence as a whole has a 27.7 percent poverty rate, almost twice the national average of 12.8 percent, and the front-line communities close to the Port includes the census tracts with the greatest concentrations of poverty in the state, specifically census tracts 5, 7, and 12. Five of the twelve census tracts in the adjacent neighborhoods are within the top 10 poorest tracts in Rhode Island, ranking 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th and 10th. The median family income is $31,800 with the poorest tracts having median family income as low as $14,067. On average, 35 percent of people in the community live below the poverty line and 63 percent are below the 200 percent poverty line. In the poorest census tracts, 64 percent live below the poverty line and 83 percent are below the 200 percent poverty line.
The Providence unemployment rate of 12.4 percent is much higher than the statewide average of 7.7 percent , while the highest unemployment levels were found in Wards 8, 9, 10, and 11 (South Providence and Washington Park), where unemployment rates range from 15.3 percent to 40.5 percent . Ward 10, directly adjacent to the Port, has the highest unemployment levels including Census Tract 5 which is the highest at 40.5 percent.
Given this data, it is clearly a myth that expanding operations at the Port will create jobs to solve economic issues such as unemployment. There is no public data available on the workforce in the Port, but based on personal accounts and parallels with other comparable sectors, the jobs for work in Providence are not given to residents of Providence, let alone residents of the neighborhoods that are directly impacted. With the limited number of temporary jobs promised with the proposed LNG Liquefaction facility, the high paying jobs requiring specialized skills will be going to Kiewit, a multinational corporation that has also worked on the Keystone XL pipeline.
The increased costs of home gas prices will have a devastating impact in Washington Park and South Providence, where families living in poverty are already dealing with the frequent impacts of National Grid terminating utility service. This is especially true in rental units which are often less energy efficient: because tenants pay utility costs, landlords have no incentive to invest in weatherization or energy efficiency, making heating costs higher. In violation of state and federal law, National Grid routinely shuts off utilities for low income medically vulnerable people who are dependent on heat and/or electricity for medical needs. The RI Center for Justice filed a class action lawsuit against National Grid and the RI Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to stop these utility terminations.
The press release for the suit included the following:
“In my work on behalf of medically vulnerable children and families, I have witnessed National Grid’s routine disregard for health and safety considerations,” says attorney Jeannine Casselman, legal program director of the RI Medical Legal Partnership at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. “Even in cases involving children with severe illnesses and disabilities, we see utility shut offs happening on a regular basis. In some instances, this can lead to loss of housing altogether. Rather than provide a reasonable repayment plan for struggling families, National Grid too often shuts off services, causing further disarray and trauma to low income households.”
In collaboration with the George Wiley Center’s Lifeline Project, this effort is working to protect the health and welfare of families that are put in danger by National Grid’s reckless and greedy energy policies. The EJ League endorses the George Wiley Center’s campaign and the full demands described in the letter from health care professionals and delivered to the RI PUC:
1. A one-year moratorium on termination for all accounts that are coded as ‘medical’.
2. The engagement of an independent third party monitor to review the Division of Public Utility’s approval of petitions for permission to terminate for all accounts coded as medical. The monitor will be selected by a joint committee composed of members of the George Wiley Center, the medical community, the Department of Health and the Public Utilities Commission.
3. The Public Utilities Commission immediately begin requiring data submissions from National Grid that are consistent with those requirements placed on the company in Massachusetts, as per the George Wiley Center’s formal request from March of 2015.
4. The Public Utilities Commission immediately begin accepting and thoroughly reviewing petitions for emergency restoration and providing timely responses to each request.
There is no publicly available address specific data that shows geographic distribution of utility shut offs. Regardless, the concentration of extreme poverty and high levels of chronic disease and health problems in the front line communities next to the Port make it highly likely that these neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by utility terminations. Testimonials for grassroots membership based organizations in the community confirms that utility termination is a major problem for many families living in front-line communities next to the fossil fuel energy complexes in Port of Providence which provide energy for the entire region. This is yet another sign of environmental injustice and systemic injustice that is built into the normal business operations of the fossil fuel industry.
● Economic Inequality: high cost project that will cause economic damage