This Monday, December 19, at 7 pm the Woonsocket City Council will hold a public meeting. Not on the agenda is the Invenergy’s proposal to pipe water to the fossil fuel power plant it proposes to build in Burrillville.
What is happening in Woonsocket is a text-book example of how environmental justice is incompatible with capitalism.
To understand this in detail, all one has to do is consult EPA’s EJSCREEN tool, which has various indicators of pollution and vulnerability of the communities. Here are the results produced by this tool for Woonsocket.
The leftmost bars, labeled PM 2.5, refer to particulate matter. This kind of pollution consists of small particles of sizes less than 2.5 microns. Anything smaller than 10 microns can get deep into the lungs, and sometimes even into the bloodstream. Orange and green bars refer respectively to state and region percentiles. The two adjacent bars on the left show that Woonsocket is more at risk than close to 100% of the state and 50% of the region.
The pairs of bars from left to right are:
- PM 2.5
- National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) Diesel PM
- NATA Cancer Risk
- NATA Respiratory Hazard Index
- Traffic Proximity
- Lead Paint Indicator
- Superfund Proximity
- Proximity to Risk Management Plan (RMP), which refers to proximity of zones prone to chemical accidents
- Hazardous Waste
- Water Discharge Proximity
Based on the above, it seems that it’s unlikely that Governor Gina Raimondo will move to Woonsocket any time soon. For full disclosure let me add that this privilege also applies to me.
The story here is that Woonsocket has a higher proportion of minority population, low income population, is more linguistically isolated than roughly 75% of the state and the region. Woonsocket also has more people with less than high school education, and relatively more kids under age five, more than about 75% of the state and the region. The city has a relatively small proportion of older people.
Once again, it is fair to assume that Governor Raimondo is unlikely to move with her family, First Gentleman Andy Moffit and First Children Ceci and Tommy, to Woonsocket; nor probably will I exchange the safety of the Kingston ivory towers for Woonsocket.
One of the EJSCREEN tools sums of all of the above up in a bar graph called environmental justice indexes. That one also includes ozone, inhalation of which is a serious health threat to children. As this EPA site explains in more detail, children are particularly at risk because their lungs are still developing.
Clearly, the last thing Woonsocket needs is more unhealthy air, as would be produced in a nearby power plant.
But there is more: water management is a serious problem anyone downstream of Woonsocket. The following are talking points shared with the members of the Woonsocket City Council:
- Rhode Island uses about two gigawatts of electric power, most of it generated out of state.
- One gigawatt can power about 200,000 families.
- Roughly 40% of US freshwater is for used thermo-electric power generation.
- Adding one gigawatt to the RI mix will requires a thorough study.
- According to RI law, water resources are regulated by the Water Resources Board.
- That board is woefully underfunded; only Kathy Crawley is left.
- RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) is in charge of groundwater.
- The Public Utility Commission (PUC) is in charge of surface water, but only sets the price.
- Conclusion: there is no “adult supervision” of water management.
- Invenergy’s proposal contains 500 pages, not a word about drought risks and the impact on Rhode Island water supply.
- Fossil Free RI filed requests for access to public records. The results reveal that experts at RIDEM and the Department of Health (RIDOH) are concerned.
- We never received a meaningful answers to our questions submitted to RIDEM, RIDOH and to the Energy Facility Siting Board docket. See page 3 and beyond of that document.
- People in these departments cannot speak freely: their directors are gubernatorial appointees.
- As reported by RI NPR, Governor Raimondo told Mr. Polsky, CEO of Invenergy: “You should know we are going to make sure that you are successful here.”
At a previous city council in Woonsocket I ended with:
Woonsocket would be an easy target for an out-of-state company with enough money to make it an offer it cannot refuse. Does it sounds as if I’m talking about the mob? Well … that’s intentional.