The chants of over fifty impassioned young activists filled the school auditorium. “National Grid, don’t kill our kids!” they cried, waving their posters and clapping their hands. The utility company’s employees, who were scattered about the room, seemed startled.
On Thursday, August 13th participants in EJLRI’s Community Environmental College teamed up with members of Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) and the Providence Student Union to publicly show their opposition to National Grid’s plan to construct a liquefaction facility at Fields Point in Providence. The proposed facility would “take natural gas from a pipeline that cuts through National Grid’s property, super-chill it to turn it into a liquid and reduce its volume, and then store it,” according to the Providence Journal. This liquefied natural gas, or LNG, could then serve as an additional source of heat in the winter. However, the facility also poses many potential risks in an area that is already subjected to a wide array of environmental toxins. Between the exhaust from trucks on the adjacent Route 95, the chemical waste of the neighboring UNIVAR facility, and the pollutants from the numerous other plants that inundate the area, Port of Providence has become one of the most contaminated areas in the city.
National Grid scheduled an info session last Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex to inform the community about the upcoming project. The EJLRI team and their allies piled into the EcoBus and headed to the auditorium, intent on having their voices heard.
The young activists spent the first hour or so milling about the space, speaking with National Grid employees and reading their literature. However, around 6:15, the group came together on a platform overlooking the info session and began their ardent chant. When they had the attention of everyone in the room, members of EJLRI and PrYSM gave moving testimonies regarding their opposition to the project.
Jesus Holgiun, EJLRI’s Youth Organizer, spoke first. He gave a general summary as to why the project did more harm than good, then explained why he felt the construction of the facility was rooted in environmental racism. Jesus explained that many people of color live around the proposed building site, and that the project would pose significant health risks to a community already dealing with disparate health outcomes. Daniel Chhum, a PrYSM youth leader who lives a few blocks away from the site in question, then told a heartfelt story about his family’s experience with asthma–an experience which he believes is likely caused by the negative externalities of the surrounding plants. “This is not a safe place for my family, and I strongly suggest that National Grid discontinue this project,” he shared. He went on to express his confusion as to why people of color, who are disproportionately affected by asthma in Providence, are destined to bear the burden of yet another environmental hazard. “[It] isn’t fair that National Grid doesn’t care about our community,” he exclaimed.
Steve Roberts, EJLRI’s Organizing Director, then took the floor. He criticized National Grid’s claim that the plant would provide more jobs for the largely underemployed community. “[National Grid] mentions 150 construction jobs, and we don’t know how many of those jobs have been set aside for folks in this disadvantaged community as a way to economically better themselves,” he shared, “We want people to have jobs, to have economic stability, but not on the backs of people who look like me.” He explained that many of the people in the Port of Providence cannot afford to pay their energy bills, leading to power shut downs, and therefore would have to endure higher environmental and monetary costs without any notable benefit. “We want clean energy, we want efficient energy, and we want investments in our future. We can’t keep polluting and tell people we’re invested in our kids’ future,” he concluded.
Next, Julian Rodríguez-Drix spoke not as an EJLRI board member, but as a young father looking to raise his family in Providence. He gave a lengthy list of natural and human catalysts that could cause an environmental disaster if the liquefaction facility were to be completed as planned, including a Hurricane Sandy-esque storm or an earthquake similar to the one that shook Providence earlier this summer. He then shared a shocking statistic: “Rhode Island right now has the second highest percentage of children who go to school within the hazard radius of a chemical facility. It’s almost entirely due to [the] UNIVAR facility in the Port. It has a 14 mile hazard radius which could potentially impact over 300 schools and 100,000 children.”
Several others made comments, including Seena Chhan, another EJRLI board member, and a community member who works at a local elementary school. When the group felt that enough had been said, Jesus led them out of the building with a call and response:
“Whose city?” “Our city!”
“Whose streets?” “Our streets!”
“Whose hood?” “Our hood!”
Much more action will be needed to protect Providence residents from the proposed LNG plant–and we’ll need your help! Get involved and stay informed by signing up for our membership list.
For more coverage of the event (including videos of the testimonies), check out the links below!