By TIM FAULKER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The banner held by climate activists outside the Statehouse on March 6 read: “Expect Resistance.” And it might be a sign of things to come.
Of the 16 protesters, nine were from Massachusetts and several were involved in recent high-profile protests in the Boston area, protests that were part of a wave of nationwide acts of civil disobedience to promote racial equality.
Nelli Routsalainen of Roxbury, Mass., was arrested and fired from her job with the city of Boston for participating in an anti-discrimination protest in January that blocked highway traffic along Interstate 93. She and others from the Boston area are opposing the Algonquin natural-gas pipeline expansion project that runs through southern New England. The project also includes a massive compressor station upgrade in Burrillville, R.I., and pipeline extensions in Boston.
Routsalainen and other Mass. protestors are part of the activist group Stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline. They joined members of Fight Against Natural Gas (FANG) and Burrillville Against Spectra Energy (BASE) during a three-day march, March 4-6 from Burrillville to Providence, where several actions were held.
The group was not deterred by news on the first day of the march that the Algonquin project received key approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The authorization, they say, was predetermined and while other permits are needed, including at least two from Rhode Island agencies, the goal is to create awareness and halt the four other natural-gas pipeline projects planned for New England.
“I’m hoping a lot of the energy here will spill over to other projects,” Routsalainen said.
Jimmy Betts spent 2014 crossing the country and joining environmental protests, many against pipeline projects. In December, he was arrested during a civil action at a natural-gas underground storage facility in upstate New York. The goal of the actions, he and other activists say, is to use nonviolent methods to draw attention to the health and ecological risks of fracking and natural-gas pipelines.
“It’s a bigger issue beyond the pipeline project here,” Betts said.
So far, anti-pipeline protests have included suspending an activist from a tripod inside the Waltham, Mass., office of Houston-based Spectra Energy, the company that owns the Algonquin and other New England pipelines.
On Feb. 28, FANG interrupted a speech by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., at the Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn. The group has also staged sit-ins at Whitehouse’s office in Providence and Sen. Jack Reed’s office in Cranston. Arrests were made at both offices.
The recent march ended at the Statehouse and in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office. It was followed by actions at the Rhode Island Department of Health, Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and Whitehouse’s office.
Neither Raimondo nor any members of her staff would meet with the activists after they entered the outer chamber of her office and held a brief protest. DEM director Janet Coit, however, did sit down with the group, and according to the activists, expressed sympathy for their cause.
The lead organizer for the Rhode Island actions, Nick Katkevich, said more nonviolent civil disobedience is planned to protest the Spectra project. The public he said needs to know that the gas running through the expanded and highly pressured pipelines is not all for local use and instead for shipping overseas.
“That’s what this is really about it: exports. And making our region dependent on fossil fuels for generations to come,” he said.