by Dan Fischer
Fracked-gas pipeline projects and power plants receive stamp after stamp of approval from governor Dannel “Methane” Malloy. With such a friend of fracking in power, gas companies are in paradise. Welcome to CH4 Connecticut!
CH4—that’s scientific shorthand for methane, the climate-cooking main component of natural gas. It’s made of one atom of carbon and four of hydrogen. Malloy has known the substance is deadly since at least 2010, when he travelled across the state campaigning to be governor. That February, a gas plant exploded in Middletown, killing six workers and injuring dozens. “As towering plumes of dark smoke poured into a dazzling blue sky, scores of ambulances, fire engines, police cars and helicopters streamed to the scene on the west bank of the Connecticut River,” the New York Times reported.
For some, that deadly explosion may have been a wake-up call, but drowsy Dannel hit the snooze button. Once elected, Malloy went ahead with his plan to vastly expand gas infrastructure, despite these projects being backyard bombs and greenhouse-gas grenades. In 2013, Malloy signed into law the Comprehensive Energy Strategy, committing the state government to “expanding natural gas across Connecticut,” in the executive summary’s words. In 2015, Malloy signed Senate Bill 1078, making ratepayers pay subsidies to corporations expanding gas pipelines.
The Gaseous Governor
Since Connecticut doesn’t have any gas reserves, Malloy can’t drill in his own state, but he would if he could. “In fact, the governor often says he’s very disappointed we don’t have any ‘frackable’ areas,” reports Dan Esty, the governor’s former commissioner of environmental protection. “Fracking” refers to the process of injecting water, sand and toxic chemicals underground to break up shale rock containing natural gas. Scientists have found unsafe levels of toxins such as arsenic in the drinking water near fracking sites.
Disappointed as he may be, Malloy compensates by filling Connecticut with fracked-gas infrastructure. Here is a sample.
- Spectra Energy’s “Algonquin” Incremental Market, Atlantic Bridge, and Access Northeast pipeline expansion projects
- Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct and Connecticut Expansion pipeline projects
- Infrastructure expansion by three so-called “local” gas distributors, which in reality are subsidiaries of the Fortune 500 companies Iberdrolla and Eversource Energy
- PSEG’s Bridgeport Harbor Station Combined Cycle Project
- Competitive Power Ventures’ Towantic Energy Center
If Malloy were honest, he might say he’s simply following his funders’ commands. While the state’s relatively progressive campaign finance laws restrict corporate campaign contributions, energy companies have found loopholes. One loophole involves funneling funds into the Connecticut Democratic Party’s misleadingly-named “federal” account, used to pay for mailings urging people to vote for Malloy. A leaked September 2013 email by the CEO of Eversource (then named Northeast Utilities) asked employees to “join me in financially supporting Connecticut’s Governor Dannel P. Malloy” by contributing to the CT Democrats’ federal account. By December of that year, the company’s executives had contributed about $50,000.
Smaller but still significant contributions to this fund came from corporations’ “political action committees”, as the Federal Election Commission’s website shows. In the 2014 election cycle, pipeline-expanding Spectra Energy contributed $5,000, and Spectra’s top lender Bank of America gave another $5,000. General Electric, an investor in Oxford’s new gas plant, contributed $10,000. Dominion Resources and FuelCell Energy, operators of a natural gas-based fuel cell in Bridgeport, gave $3,500 and $2,500 respectively. Northeast Utilities sent $2,500, and PSEG sent $1,000. Malloy, in turn, has kept his donors happy.
Mandate for Meltdown
“I have never seen [a situation] that essentially puts 20 million residents at risk, plus the entire economics of the United States,” warned the engineer Paul Blanch, speaking to Truthout reporter Ellen Cantarow. Blanch referred to Spectra Energy’s ongoing construction of fracked-gas pipeline right next to New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant, at one spot a mere 105 feet away. Blanch has forty-five years of experience working on nuclear safety issues. He warns that there is a small though real possibility that a pipeline rupture could disrupt the nuclear plant and trigger the flood of massive amounts of cancerous radioactive materials through the New York metropolitan area. This includes Connecticut communities on the Metro-North rail-line. Blanch remarked, “I’m not an alarmist and haven’t been known as an alarmist, but the possibility of a gas line interacting with a [nuclear] plant could easily cause a Fukushima type of release.”
Governor Malloy has stayed silent on the risks the Spectra project poses to Connecticut constituents living in the vicinity of Indian Point (which, by the way, is already quite dangerous even without Spectra’s construction). Moreover, Malloy’s legislation has given Spectra incentives to go ahead with expanding its pipeline through Connecticut, despite a variety of harmful impacts to local ecosystems and communities: explosion risks, disruption of protected species habitats, increased pollution from expanded compressor stations. In 2012, Spectra executive Bill Yardley wrote that “Spectra Energy commends Governor Malloy for his leadership.”
In the summer of 2015, Vic Lancia, a Middletown resident, celebrated his 75th birthday in an unusual way. Early that morning, he sat down in the middle of the only road leading to Spectra’s largest equipment storage site in the state, in North Windham. Locking himself to two concrete-filled barrels decorated as birthday cakes with candles and frosting, he made sure no Spectra workers would have access to the site that morning. Lancia remarked, “Capitalism and the burning of fossil fuels are destroying our beloved and beautiful planet, the habitat for all humanity and life, all for profit and convenience. Isn’t it time to resist? Do we not care for our children, the generations beyond our lives, and for life itself?”
Pass the Racism
In February, Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) won approval of its plan to open a new fracked-gas plant to replace its dying coal-fired power plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The new construction, starting in 2017, will lock in decades more of pollution in an already extremely-polluted, low-income neighborhood that is 30 percent black and 30 percent latin@. PSEG admits the gas-fired power plant will release pollutants linked to emphysema, bronchitis, learning deficits, heart disease, cancer, and asthma triggers. During a City Hall hearing on the gas proposal earlier that month, Bridgeport residents had released a banner tied to balloons that floated up to the high ceiling. The banner stated, “Fracked gas is environmental racism!”
“Environmental racism is when an unfair share of pollution is placed on communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. That’s what is happening in Bridgeport,” said Bridgeport resident Gabriela Rodriguez.
In recent years, the NAACP and Indigenous Environmental Network have ranked PSEG’s Bridgeport coal plant as one of the country’s ten worst in terms of environmental justice. Rather than acknowledging its harm to the community, the company plans to keep the coal plant open until 2021, while it begins construction on its new filthy facility.
The new polluting plant will stand right next to Connecticut’s historic Mary and Eliza Freeman houses, the oldest Connecticut homes built and owned by African Americans. Before the Civil War, a community of free black and indigenous Paugussett residents lived in the neighborhood, and one of the churches may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. “By putting a gas plant here, PSEG is basically saying that black lives do not matter to them,” said Bridgeport resident Tiffany Mellers when community members released the balloon banner. At the same City Hall hearing, Mellers’s ten year-old daughter Jaysa addressed the crowd: “No coal, no gas, go green!”
After PSEG announced its plan to keep the community perpetually polluted, Malloy spoke out in defense of PSEG. Have a barf bag handy: “Today’s announcement to convert the PSEG plant to natural gas is incredibly positive news. Our state continues to show that we can meet our energy needs while decreasing our carbon footprint – we are leaders in combating global warming.”
Cooking the Climate
Since Malloy doesn’t like talking about his corporate funders, the gaseous governor offers three whopping lies to explain his support of gas expansion. First, Malloy says the goal of the construction is to save his constituents money. However, the pipeline construction’s main purpose is actually to transport gas to export facilities on the Atlantic Ocean. As Craig Altemose of the Better Future Project calculates, the total capacity added by Spectra and Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansions far, far exceeds even the industry-friendly estimates of what New England will need during times of peak demand. Altemose remarks, “Spectra in particular has not been very good at hiding their intentions: they blatantly named one of their projects ‘Atlantic Bridge’ (i.e. building a metaphorical bridge over the Atlantic to connect American supply with European demand).”
In Oxford, Connecticut, where Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) plans to build a new fracked-gas plant, Wayne McCormack explains that some of his neighbors have said they may move in order to avoid breathing in the pollution. McCormack lives in a 55-and-older community, and some potential buyers have cited the gas plant as a reason for not moving there.
McCormack asked CPV how much he will save on energy bills as a result of the company’s planned gas plant in town. The company answered $34 a year. McCormack says it’s “absurd” to compromise his neighborhood’s health for such a small amount. “There’s no one in this area who really wants this plant except the politicians,” he insists.
Residents may be annoyed at politicians, but companies like CPV are quite appreciative. “We are grateful to the Malloy administration…for all their hard work in reviewing and approving the CPV Towantic project,” remarked the company’s vice president in a March 2016 press release written jointly with the company’s financier General Electric.
Another lie Malloy spreads is that natural gas is a necessary “bridge fuel” until the state is ready for a full switch to renewables. In reality, clean renewables are ready for rapid installment right now, as studies by Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson, UC Berkeley researcher Mark Delucchi, University of Delaware engineer Cory Budischak, and others have repeatedly demonstrated.
The biggest lie of all, however, is that gas infrastructure is somehow good for the climate. Cornell researchers say natural gas is actually 20 to 200 percent worse than coal is for the climate, when methane leaks from extraction sites and pipelines are taken into account. That’s because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide according to NASA scientists. In other words, Malloy’s fracking fanaticism doesn’t cool the climate, it cooks it.
The good news is that politicians, crooked as they are, still sometimes buckle under strong grassroots pressure. Years of blockades and protests by groups and networks such as Marcellus Shale Earth First! pushed New York to ban fracking back in December of 2014. More recently, New York’s Governor Cuomo responded to unrelenting protests including road blockades and a vigil outside his house, by calling for a moratorium on Spectra’s construction. After dozens in Boston engaged in civil disobedience, the mayor announced plans to take legal action to challenge Spectra’s project.
Even Malloy can fold with enough pressure. For instance, fearful of criticism from his left during the election year of 2014, he signed a temporary moratorium on storing fracking waste in Connecticut. If groups such as 350-Connecticut, Connecticut Sierra Club, Connecticut Food and Water Watch, and Capitalism vs. the Climate drastically turn up their heat on Malloy, then perhaps they will force an end to the governor’s filthy fracking support.
Dan Fischer is a member of Capitalism vs. the Climate (affiliated with Rising Tide) and Industrial Workers of the World-CT. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.