By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Opposition is growing as plans advance for a new natural-gas facility on the city’s waterfront.
In a letter to Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), seven members of the General Assembly and five advocacy groups call for the state agency to deny permits to National Grid LNG LLC to build the proposed liquefaction plant.
The plea, authored by the advocacy group No LNG in PVD, cites a failure to allow public scrutiny of the project, in addition to the health and environmental risks posed by the facility that converts natural gas to a liquid for shipping and storage.
“DEM must create the conditions for the meaningful involvement of impacted environmental justice communities in order to give due consideration and investigation of the serious environmental justice issues related to this project,” according to the letter.
The 42-acre site on the Providence River has endured more than a century of pollution. It once hosted an Army rifle range, a coal gasification plant, and propane and kerosene storage facilities.
A community outreach effort, called a public involvement plan (PIP), is under scrutiny. In August, opposition groups successfully petitioned DEM to authorize a PIP ahead of the environmental cleanup at the contaminated site off Allens Avenue. National Grid, however, said it doesn't need to follow the public outreach plan because federal rules preempt local rules.
“The PIP process would both delay and burden the project. Therefore, federal regulations preempt this process,” according to a letter from National Grid’s attorney Robin L. Main.
The Sept. 26 letter also states that National Grid will not adhere to DEM’s soil management plan, but instead comply with federal regulations.
DEM later agreed that the PIP doesn't apply to the liquefaction project. But insisted that the plan is required for a land cleaning and capping project, as well as an 80-foot wall around portions of the facility.
Meanwhile, opponents are concerned that work is underway at the site without approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). National Grid maintains that the work along the Providence River is unrelated to the LNG project.
No LNG in PVD noted that a sign for the liquefaction project has already by erected at the site even though approval is pending.
There is a concerning lack of clarity on which projects on the site are directly or indirectly related to the liquefaction facility, and which regulatory agency has authority, according to the coalition.
DEM said it only just received the latest letter from No LNG in PVD and is reviewing it. The agency began an assessment of the water-quality application for the liquefaction facility on Sept. 14. Preparation is also underway for public notice.
On Oct. 31, DEM issued a general permit to National Grid to install and run an emergency generator at the 121 Terminal Road site. National Grid maintains that the generator is only for onsite emergency power in the event the electric grid goes down. In all, four projects are underway or being sought for the site: a new access road, the capping project, the liquefaction plant, and the 80-foot-high containment wall around a storage tank.
The No LNG in PVD letter is signed by the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island; FANG Collective; Rhode Island Sierra Club; American Friends Service Committee-South East New England; Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence; Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence; Rep. Chris Blazejewski, D-Providence; Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence; Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence; Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence; and Sen. Paul Jabour, D-Providence. Mayor Jorge Elorza also opposes the project.
Opponents cite a number of social-justice concerns related to the $100 million project, including possible harm to the neighborhood from fires or explosions at the site, health impacts from air pollution, economic inequality, environmental racism in an economically depressed neighborhood, and an increase in the risks from climate impacts such as flooding and hot weather.