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Why Coastal Resource reforms should be focused on environmental racism
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Why Coastal Resource reforms should be focused on environmental racism

Wednesday, the House special commission to study the Constitution met for the first time. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) allowed for public comment on the proceedings. The commission heard, for the first-time in six meetings, about environmental racism and recent racist actions by the CRMC.

It is unfortunate that public comment was not allowed earlierIn the special House commission’s meeting schedule, because this important topic deserves much more discussion than the brief, less than five minutes afforded to the subject on Wednesday.

For those interested, here’s a short history of the CRMC’s actions in approving a controversial Fields Point liquefaction facility in the Port of ProvidenceOver the objections from the local community and in the service of National GridTheir backroom alliance with the former Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo.

National Grid applied to the CRMC in early 2017 to convert an LNG storage tank to a liquefaction plant. National Grid can store up to 18 times more LNG in a storage tank through liquefaction. Super-cooling LNG, which is a greenhouse, reduces the space taken up by the gas. Many environmental groups and communities in the vicinity of the Port of Providence opposed the plan. This was a huge expansion of fossil fuels at an age when it is essential to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The environmental racism grounds were also raised by the opposition because the Port’s polluting industries already have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods around the Port are mostly low income, mostly people of color, who suffer from the highest rates of childhood asthma in America, as a result of the Port’s industrial activity.

On the CRMC 2017 was Tony Affigne, who was the council’s strongest advocate for climate change and environmental racism. Affigne tried to raise environmental issues as well as neighborhood impacts regarding the proposed liquefaction plant during the next hearings. The CRMC stopped discussing the proposed facility as the summer approached in 2017. Affigne, along with two other members of CRMC, were Suddenly replacedby Governor Gina Raimondo, with members more inclined toward National Grid.

After Governor Raimondo installed Jennifer Cervenka as the Chair of the CRMC, National Grid’s liquefaction facility proposal was fast-tracked. The communities around the Port couldn’t afford legal representation and were not able to hear the CRMC listen to their opinions. The proposed facility was not located in the vicinity of any CRMC member. The opinions of the people who testified before them were not shared by any member of CRMC.

A series of Public meetings, no members of the general public spoke in favor of National Grid’s liquefaction facility. Numerous members of environmental and neighborhood groups spoke out against the project. The public voiced their disapproval at white supremacy and racism at play at a meeting in November 2017. CRMC Chair Cervenka removed a woman of colour who had been testifying against the project from the microphone and summoned the police.

Chair Cervenka and former director of CRMC Grover Fugate, constantly told those opposed to the proposal that the CRMC’s hands were tied and that they had no ability to deny the proposal, which was mostly in the hands of federal regulators. This was a fabrication. Nearly a year after approval by the CRMC for the liquefaction plant, the Attorney General for Rhode IslandFugate, Cervenka, and the CRMC were determined to be valid Having illegally withheld documentsAttorneys may be requested Seth HandyConcerning discussions between CRMC and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAAYou can find out more about the project at (

Had these documents been released in a timely fashion, the public would have learned that the CRMC had much more power over National Grid’s application than they were willing to admit. However, the political nature of National Grid’s CRMC and its wholesale adoption by Governor Raimondo meant this information was never made available to the public.

The truth is that Governor Raimondo had placed people on the CRMC to fast track National Grid’s project. Cervenka was willing do whatever it took to force this project on the communities around Port of Providence, ignoring their wishes, safety, and health.

It was the epitome and embodiment of environmental racism, and it caused very little controversy in Rhode Island.

Cervenka would ultimately be brought to her knees by another controversy, this time involving mostly white people Block IslandThat Attracted the attentionAttorney General Peter Neronha. This controversy led to the creation of the special House committee tasked with reforming CRMC.

The hearings of the special Commission did not include environmental justice or the overt racism of CRMC and Raimondo Administration. However, UpriseRI brought it up to the Commission’s attention on Wednesday.

“I appreciate that.,” said Representative Deborah Ruggiero(Democrat, District 74 Jamestown) who is the chair of the commission. “Environmental racism and environmental justice. Two very good points.”

“Those were interesting remarks,” said commission member Representative Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport). “Because so many times when we think about the CRMC we think about South County and Newport and I think that we have to remember that the coast goes all the way around and does touch upon a very wide variety of neighborhoods.”

Save the BayThe CRMC has been reformulated in four ways by the author. Note that Save the Bay, with headquarters in the Port of Providence, not only did not object to National Grid’s massive expansion of fossil fuels, they supported it. Still, Save the Bay’s suggestions concerning the reorganization of the CRMC are good ones. They are:

  • Abolish the Council: CRMC’s decisions can shape Rhode Island’s coast for decades to come. But some of those with the power to make these decisions (like the politically-appointed members of the Council) are not required to have any expertise or background on coastal issues. The best way to reduce political influence in the agency, strengthen accountability, and build public trust is to abolish the current council structure.
  • Hire a Dedicated Staff attorney: CRMC, as other state agencies, should have its very own, full-time, environmental-expert lawyer to represent staff at hearings. The Council has private attorneys who have potential conflicts of interest and other clients.
  • Appoint Hearing officers: Rhode Island law provides that the Governor is responsible in appointing qualified hearing officials to determine contested matters before CRMC. However these positions are currently vacant. This leaves the politically-appointed council with power to decide on controversial and contested matters.
  • Increase Staff and Funding: CRMC manages new challenges like climate change and offshore wind.
    change, ensuring access to the shore for all, and enforcing the laws and rules that protect Rhode Island’s coast-but they only have 30 staff members. The agency has more staff and resources now.

UpriseRI has added one to the above list:

  • Through carefully drafted legislation, encode in the DNA of CRMC a thoughtful, protective sense of the importance and centrality of environmental justice. Make sure that community impacts – and more importantly cumulative community impacts in the sense of health and environmental concerns – are important considerations in any decision the CRMC makes and that no decision is made that does not address potential impacts to environmental and racial justice.

See: No LNG in PVD Requires representation for Environmental Justice Communities on the CRMC

This will allow us to have a CRMC that protects ALL Rhode Islanders and not just some.

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