I went to the hearing in front of the Rhode island Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) in Burrillville on March 31 about the proposed Clear River gas fired power plant. Hundreds of people turned out. When we arrived at 5:45 we had to go beyond the High School parking lot into the neighborhood to park. Upon walking up to the school what you saw were about 100 guys in union t-shirts. Inside, the room got very full and I heard that 100 more people stayed outside. There were at least four police officers at the event to help keep the peace.
Invenergy provided the usual dog and pony show. Too many slides full of words. The guy needed an energy boost and a much better power point. He pretended to address the issues, but did not. You could tell he really did not want to be there. He was introduced by the company’s local RI lawyer one of the usual faces I see at the State House. I do not think the lawyer was very happy to see the sea of humanity opposing the project either.
Testimony from the public was OVERWHELMINGLY against the plant. The two towns folk who spoke in favor had nothing to say and were roundly booed. The rank and file union guys were a mixed bag. Some spoke for jobs and some where incoherent. The union leaders were more articulate, but still stuck in the old paradigm. The opposition to the plant was lead by folks who live right in the neighborhood of the proposed plant. Noise, light pollution, toxics, odors, water and the destruction of their dreams and relatively pristine community were cited repeatedly. Many of the local residents also spoke passionately about climate, and the larger context, as did a few of us outsiders.
If public opinion matters, then the EFSB has an easy decision. NO. if the political fix is in and the powers demand that it get built, the EFSB will be shut down as useless. If they can not determine that the plant will prevent us from ever meeting our greenhouse gas emissions goals, pollute the local environment, and create all sorts of hazards and burdens for the community, the EFSB is hiding. If they want to drown Providence they are fools.
I think what I took away from the hearings the most is how out of touch the union leaders are with where the economy is going and where their future jobs are going to be. I worked in construction for many years. It is an honorable way to make a living. But the unions need to learn to stop building things that are bad for communities because that eventually undercuts prosperity and their support in the community. They need to say no to the corporate criminals and stand with communities against destruction. They need to stop being dependent upon corporate criminals for their work and start developing their own projects. They should act more like a cooperative rather than pick up the dregs from the rich and tell communities that this is the way to create jobs. It harms their workers to be seen as harming communities. And in a low growth environment, they need to be even more careful.
There is a lot that needs to be built right now. We need housing that people can actually afford to live in. We need non polluting energy sources, new storm water management systems, better roads, bike paths and rail corridors. But all the union executives seem to do (and maybe this is because the most visible private sector unions are in construction, and the only projects big enough are those that are based on the public’s money) is shill for the worst corporate criminals: in this case an industry that has lied about the harm it does for the last 50 years, that knew greenhouse gases were going to cause big problems, and hid the information.
You have to ask why the pipe-fitters and the steel workers, with their pension funds, do not invest directly in their own workers. Why are they not building their own wind farms or their own solar arrays? Have they bought into the ‘subservient to capital model’ that tells them to be shills for every stupid project that comes down the road so their members can get jobs?
Of course the politicians are also to blame. They refuse to understand the political and economic climate. They think they can muscle communities for corporations and base their careers on looting communities to benefit the rich. When will they get that taking care of communities, ecological healing and economic justice are the road to prosperity, not burning dinosaurs to make the climate as hot as when the dinosaurs lived? And how can anyone who lives in Rhode Island not realize that pretending real estate development is economic development is a scam. Even the World Bank, IMF and OECD tell us that subsidizing the rich works AGAINST community prosperity. But then again, an analysis I read of the World Economic Forum in Davos pointed out that the politicians and the corporate criminals they consort with are the only ones in the whole world who are not ready for a new economy based on justice and healing ecosystems.
I said one thing at the end of my three minutes that I think I will repeat here. If we stop this power plant, it will be a shot heard round the world. The fossil fuel industry must be stopped. Stop the coal mining, stop the pipelines, stop the fracking, stop the building of new infrastructure that ties us into the old system for the next 40 years. If we stop this plant it will be a beacon for people around the world that the empire can be stopped. That we can have a green future.
Little Rhody has a future as a leader, but the economy that gets us there is not the one that Governor Wall St is leading us towards. We have reminded her of this before, and I hope she gets a clue soon.