FERC dismisses any responsibility to address health and environmental impacts within low-income and minority neighborhoods that abut city’s working waterfront
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — As expected, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved National Grid’s natural-gas cooling and storage facility planned for the city’s industrial shipping port.
But not all members of the FERC board fully supported the application for the Allens Avenue facility that is expected to worsen pollution and health conditions for the South Providence and Washington Park neighborhoods. Two FERC commissioners said the environmental analysis lacked a review of the “social cost of carbon.” The term looks at the long-term financial damage to the environment caused by the release of carbon dioxide.
“We believe the Social Cost of Carbon provides a meaningful and informative approach for an agency to consider how its actions contribute to the harm caused by climate change,” wrote Richard Glick and Cheryl LaFleur in a concluding comment.
The four commissioners, however, endorsed the $180 million natural facility in their 51-page decision. Their decision refutes many of the comments and complaints about the proposed liquefaction project by relying heavily on FERC’s environmental analysis (EA) that concludes that the endorsement “would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”
The board’s decision noted that renewable energy wouldn’t be a reasonable alternative and doesn’t fulfill the project’s mission of adding liquefaction services at the Fields Point LNG facility. Renewable power couldn’t provide the type and quantity of energy demanded by National Grid’s natural-gas subsidiaries who would use the facility, according to the commissioners. Those businesses argue that the project is necessary to fulfill peak energy demand.
“In view of this, we concur with the EA’s conclusion that renewables and/or conservation are not feasible project alternatives, and were therefore appropriately rejected,” according to FERC.
The FERC board also maintained that National Grid deserves the natural-gas cooling and storage facility because the global energy company wouldn’t make false claims about the need for it.
“We decline to second guess National Grid’s business decision based on speculation about prospective changes in energy markets,” according to the commissioners.
FERC has refuted the contention made by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and others that the project should be rejected for the same reason an LNG shipping port was denied by FERC in 2005. The agency dismissed the argument by noting that unlike the KeySpan LNG import terminal proposed for the same site, the liquefaction facility doesn’t alter the existing 127-foot-high LNG storage tank or add a new one.
The report concluded that the ongoing business activities along the city’s heavily industrialized waterfront are a safe distance away from existing and future residences and public services.
The commissioners also concluded that the proposed facility includes adequate safeguards that reduce the risk of an accident that threatens the surrounding population. In response to Save The Bay’s concern that the structures would be ill-prepared for major storms and floods, FERC said the facility’s valve-isolation system would keep liquid in and floodwater out.
The project is also designed to withstand a 500-year storm event and 50 years of sea-level rise, according to FERC.
The FERC report dismisses any responsibility to address public health and environmental impacts within the predominately low-income and minority neighborhoods that abut the city’s working waterfront.
“We take the current conditions as they are and ask whether impacts of the proposed project, when added to the status quo, will cause disproportionately high and adverse impacts. As discussed below, we find they will not,” according to FERC.
The board noted that it does have to comply with the 1994 executive order that requires federal agencies to make environmental justice part of its mission “by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high adverse human health or environmental effects of its activities on minority and low-income populations.”
The FERC commissioners also noted that the project helps the local economy, won’t worsen traffic and air quality, and will have an overall minimal impact on minority and low-income populations.
National Grid’s LNG facility encountered a wide range of opposition. Many opponents equated the project with the proposed natural-gas/diesel-fired plant proposed for Burrillville. They also turned out en masse for hearings before the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council.
Opponents include Mayor Jorge Elorza, members of the City Council and General Assembly, business owners, environmental groups, and residents of South Providence and from across the state.
The opposition group No LNG in PVD said it was proud that is was able to delay the project for three years and will continue to keep the South Side from becoming a sacrifice zone.
“This is only the start of ongoing efforts to make the Port of Providence clean and healthy again, and to make Rhode Island a place where economic and environmental health go hand in hand,” according to a No LNG in PVD press release.
Elorza praised the grassroots group for its sustained efforts to fight the project and raise public awareness about the risks it poses. He described the LNG project as “yet another environmental burden to the already overburdened communities of color in Providence. This facility is an affront to our city’s climate, energy and racial equity goals.”
The project awaits the issuance of water-quality certification and a permit to build a water-pollution discharge system from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. Local officials are also reviewing a soil management plan for the 42-acre site.
National Grid hasn’t said when it plans to begin construction. But it intends to have the facility operating by 2020.
Timothy Horan, president of National Grid Rhode Island, wrote in a prepared statement that the project is needed to meet the region’s heavy reliance of natural gas for heat and electricity. The project will only move the LNG by tanker truck not on ships, according to Horan.
“As we continue to drive the growth of renewable energy and innovations in energy efficiency, we are also obligated to provide the continued safe, reliable, affordable delivery of electricity and natural gas to our customers. This project will help us do just that,” Horan wrote.