I went to Buchanan’s Village Board meeting last night. Spectra Energy (Not to be confused with James Bond’s Spectre ) (thanks Becket Feierbach) gave a presentation and took questions. For those who don’t know, Spectra is planning to build a gigantic 42” pipeline UNDER the Hudson River, THROUGH two earthquake fault zones PAST an aging unlicensed leaking nuclear power plant and right NEXT TO the Buchanan-Verplanck elementary school. What could possibly go wrong?
The 300 children and adults at the elementary school will be within the “high consequence area” of the pipeline, meaning that in the event of an explosion, 100% of the humans will be incinerated within 90 seconds.
For a primer on the dangers of natural gas and up-to-the-minute news on the latest explosions, check out the labor of love that is NaturalGasWatch.org.
My friend Kevin O’Neill, intelligently objecting to the use of First Peoples’ tribal names for natural gas infrastructure, won’t call it by it’s official name, the Algonquin Pipeline, but calls it instead the “High Pressure Fracking Gas Monstrosity Pipeline” and points out that Westchester is slated to become a sacrifice zone.
It was one of those meetings where the people in charge of the project wear suits and impassively explain how they know what they’re doing and there’s really no rational cause for concern and “answer” questions by providing as little information as possible and making vague promises to get back with better answers at some later point in time.
It reminded me a lot of the recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting I went to (where I first met Peter Gross, the new leader of Clearwater.org. And Dr Susan Rubin showed The Plan(?), her movie about evacuating away from the aging unlicensed leaking nuclear reactor and passed out delicious popcorn.)
There was considerable and amazingly well-informed opposition, much of it from the remarkable people at WPP/Spectra Task Force in Cortlandt and Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, including Bernie Vaughey, chairman of the Task Force and two of the founding members of SAPE Paula Clair and Susan Van Dolsen (Westchester for Change). We were hoping for a sighting of Ellen Weininger (Grassroots Environmental Education) but she couldn’t make it.
The Mayor, Theresa Knickerbocker, and most (all?) of the elected officials and all the citizens who spoke at the meeting fell somewhere between serious concerns and unalterable opposition. Like nearly all such energy infrastructure projects, the permission of the local population and their government is not required. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grants permission to energy companies. FERC tends to authorize pretty much all the projects industry suggests. Though not until after a public comment period. By its own description, “FERC is self-funding, in that it pays for its own operations by imposing annual charges and fees on the industries it regulates.” Should any party have the wherewithal, resources and stamina, FERC decisions can be reviewed by federal courts. The opponents of the Minisink compressor station eventually managed to have their day in federal court. They lost.
One of the citizens who spoke was Jenn Duffy Lauth who characterized her community as including, as does Miniskink, a number of first responders, including 9/11 first responders. And that such people don’t easily give up. As she put it, “I don’t want you to come here because it doesn’t make any sense. You’re going to have a fight on your hands. We’re fighters. We’re the one who go into burning buildings when they fall down. We’re the ones that go in after those kids even if we’ve only got 90 seconds.”
There’s passion and true grit in this crowd of citizens. Their objections run from the noise to the venting of radioactive substances “to atmosphere” all the way through to climate change and any percentage of humans possibly being incinerated. These people are defending their home place. And it is good and right for them to do so.
Looking at the tentacles of this proposed pipeline, running from Pennsylvania to Cape Cod, and having some recognition of the sunk costs and the enormous potential profits involved, and that it has to be continuous in order for the money to flow, it would seem that any community, no matter the passion and grit, has a low chance of success in stopping it. The game is rigged, and whoever has the gold makes the rules.
People working on a scale larger than a single community, like the good people at Sane Energy Project bring up broader questions. How is it defensible to disrupt and endanger the lives of people for private profit, especially when they receive no benefit? Can we revoke the status given to energy infrastructure interests, comparable to that of national-security-scale juggernauts, that grants them permission to do whatever they think best? If climate change is already underway and natural gas is many times more potent at creating it than coal or gasoline, how can we possibly consider continuing to use it, let alone expanding (enormously) our capacity?
What a small but growing number of people are coming to realize is that the passion and grit evoked by threats to Buchanan’s or Minisink’s home place are appropriate to all of us, because all our home places are being transformed into ever higher consequence areas.
Paul Stark has been writing and creating performance texts about climate change, fracking and democracy since 2010. Before that he was a database programmer, and before that he wrote some books and studied to be a playwright. He’s organizing and promoting activism in Westchester county through Northern Westchester for a Better Tomorrow, blogging and managing projects at PaulStark.name and producing Little House on the Planet, an ongoing radio drama about a wide range of politically engaged characters.