By Kenya Hunter
Every day on her lunch break, Weymouth resident Andrea Honore sits in Gov. Charlie Baker’s office at the Massachusetts State House in hopes that she’ll finally be able to confront him. She wants answers regarding his actions, or lack thereof regarding a natural gas compressor that is set to be built in her home city of Weymouth, a community on the Southshore of Boston.
“What’s happening in Weymouth right now is that we have a governor who does not use Massachusetts environmental laws to prohibit a gas transmission compressor from being built on a small plot of land,” said Honoree.
She has been on this crusade for over 100 days. “I did 82 days in 2017. I stopped because he took action.” That action was in 2017 when Baker called for a study of the air around the site of the Weymouth compressor. Those studies have not happened yet.
“I started back up Jan. 14, because on Jan. 11, the air permit plan was approved. I said I have to go back. It’s over 85 days this year. In total, I think I’m headed toward 172 days.”
The station would be part of energy giant Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project. The company wants the proposed compressor near the Fore River basin only a few hundred feet away from the Fore River bridge, which carries much traffic that goes into Boston. The residents are concerned about the primary gas that compressor stations release: methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Opponents against the station say that it would be built on only four acres of land, which is unusual for most natural gas compressor stations. Should the project move forward, Weymouth would be the most densely populated area where any compressor station in the country sits.
This project has been the spotlight of friction between Baker and the state legislature, since close to one-third of the Massachusetts State Senate have come out in opposition against the project. Local residents have fiercely protested since its initial proposal in 2014. Now, they’re saying that Baker is not doing as much as he can to protect its residents.
“[The Department of Environmental Protection] is violating many federal environmental justice laws,” said Honoree. “There are clean air laws, clean water laws that are being ignored completely.”
One of the concerns of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, also known as FRRACS, has had is the fact that there are already a number of industrial infrastructures. Just a few hundred feet away from the site is the Edgar-Edison Power Station. It is also owned by Enbridge.
Weymouth is considered an environmental justice community in Massachusetts. This means the state recognizes Weymouth as a city that deals with a disproportionate rate of environmental injustices like bad effects of air quality. These are communities with a high population of people of color, those who are non-English proficient, or a high number of residents live off less than 65% of the state’s median income.
At a protest outside of the State House on July 2, Rev. Betsy Sowers of Old Cambridge Baptist Church expressed why the Weymouth compressor was a key example of why a number of environmental justice bills in the State House should pass. “Residents in these neighborhoods already face elevated rates of cancer, respiratory disease, and other disorders,” she said. “The lives of people of color, and the lives of people who have the misfortune not to be wealthy are not expendable. Our neighborhoods are not your sacrifice zones…so that Enbridge can export its deadly product to Europe for higher prices.”
The FRRACS members have made some sharp accusations against Baker, who said he can’t so anything when it comes to the approval for air quality permits needed for the station to begin its operations.
“Gov. Baker has given us every signal that his hands are not tied,” said Nathan Williams of ACE, an environmental justice group in Boston. “Or at least that he’s very happy with his hands being tied. That he wants this compressor station to be built.”
The protestors do not feel that Baker has truly done all he can to protect them. Instead, they say that Baker might have something to do with the reason certain air quality data was withheld when the station was initially given the go-ahead.
In an investigation done by the DeSmog Blog, it was revealed data that showed the area around the proposed site had elevated levels of carcinogens went unreported. The investigation by the blog put the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in hot water with the State legislature and the residents of Weymouth. Some residents say they are willing to take it to legal action.
“I believe that we will fight, and we will win,” Williams said. “But if God forbid we lose, best believe Governor Baker, we will hold you criminally accountable for the construction of this compressor station.”
Some residents are even considering moving away if the station goes forward. Some already have.
“Three of our board members moved away because they were concerned for their health,” said Alice Arena, president of FRRACS.
Rev. Gretchen Elmendorf of Weymouth told a story of a mother who lives near the compressor site during the July 2 protest. She is worried that if her son, who is recovering from brain cancer, lives near a compressor station, it would be detrimental for his health. “I hope Charlie Baker realizes that Mighty Quinn lives less than a mile from the site,” said the mother of Mighty Quinn, a young boy who is well known around the city of Weymouth. “Any extra carcinogens in the air will only further the inability to recover. All because I chose to buy a house in my hometown.”
There are reasons to be concerned. The site of the compressor will sit right near the Fore River Basin. While compressor accidents are rare, they are not unheard of. In 2012 a Pennsylvania natural gas compressor blasted a hole through its roof. According to the Times-Tribune in Scranton, PA, the explosion shook homes as far as half a mile away. The proposed site rests right next to a bridge that is vital for an efficient flow of traffic. If there is an accident, traffic has the potential to be paralyzed.
Nearly 3,000 students attend school in the area, and there are about 900 homes within a two-mile radius of the proposed site.
There is also concern about the use of fossil fuels. The proposed infrastructure is structured to last for decades on end, which opposed some residents’ desire to stop depending on fossil fuels. Compressor stations also emit methane. Methane is a strong chemical greenhouse gas that has much association with climate change.
“On behalf of all precious life on our planet, we need to initiate a moratorium on all new fracked gas stations,” said a protestor who asked not to be named. “We need to have a deep resolve to inverse the climate crisis.”
If the project moves forward, there won’t be much the residents can do. They did win one small victory recently. The site of the proposed station was once the place where a coal industry plant once operated. With that, Enbridge was required to move forward with soil tests and a plan to clean up any toxic residue left over. The energy giant missed the deadline, so they will not be able to move forward with any construction until June of 2020.