By GREG GERRITT
I went to the public hearing in front of the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board in Burrillville on March 31 about the proposed Clear River gas-fired power plant. Hundreds of people turned out.
Invenergy provided the usual dog-and-pony show. Too many slides full of words. The company guy pretended to address the issues. He didn’t. You could tell he really didn’t want to be there. He was introduced by the company’s local Rhode Island lawyer — one of the usual faces I see often at the Statehouse. I don’t think the lawyer was very happy to see the sea of humanity opposing the project.
Testimony from the public was overwhelmingly against the power plant. The two local residents who spoke in favor of the project were roundly booed. Opposition was lead by folks who live right in the neighborhood of the proposed plant. Noise, light pollution, toxics, odors, water use and the destruction of their relatively pristine community were sited repeatedly during the meeting. Many of the local residents also spoke passionately about climate change, and the larger context of the project, as did a few of us outsiders.
If public opinion matters, then the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) has an easy decision: no power plant. If the political fix is in and the powers demand that it get built, the EFSB will be shut down as useless.
If it can’t determine that the proposed power 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.
I think what I took away from the hearing 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’s 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 powerful and tell communities that this is the way to create jobs. It harms their workers to be seen as harming communities.
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 stormwater management systems, better roads, bicycle paths and rail corridors. But all the union executives seem to do is shill for the corporate criminals, in this case an industry that has lied about the harm it does for the past 50 years, that knew greenhouse gases were going to cause big problems and hid the information.
Why aren’t the construction trades 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 corporate interests and base their careers on looting communities to benefit the rich and powerful.
When do they get that taking care of communities, protecting the environment and creating economic justice is the road to prosperity, not burning dinosaurs to make the climate hotter?
We need to stop the building of new fossil-fuel infrastructure that ties us into the old system for the next 40 years. Rhode Island has a future as a leader, but the economy that gets us there is not the one that Gov. Wall Street is leading us toward.
Providence resident Greg Gerritt is the founder of the think tank ProsperityForRI.com.