THE UNWORKABLE PARADOXES OF “ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE”

ENVIRO

On August 1st the Massachusetts House voted 142-17 to include a so-called ‘environmental justice’ amendment into the pending 2050 Roadmap bill setting our State’s future energy policy. The size of the vote suggests the bill won’t be successfully vetoed, even assuming that it should be vetoed.

What then is “environmental justice” ? Is there such a concept beyond the phrase ?

Proponents say that the term means that when energy policy is set, its environmental consequences should not disproportionately impact certain communities or neighborhoods. This sounds good. Equal protection of the laws, a principle we supposedly all accept, requires that energy laws, like any other laws, give equal, not unequal, protection to all.

The “environmental justice” amendment, however, is not a principle but an application of a principle. The devil as always, is in the details. The following lengthy quote from WBUr’s report on the House’ s discussion, tells us much :

Madaro’s amendment, in addition to defining an environmental justice community based on new race, income, and language-proficiency criteria, would give community members a much more meaningful role in the decision-making process about new projects. It also, importantly, says that any future environmental impact statement must take into account something called cumulative impact.

Right now, when a state agency like the Department of Public Utilities or the Energy Facilities Siting Board weighs whether to approve a pipeline, highway or other big project, it looks at whether the pollution from that specific project would exceed state law, but it doesn’t necessarily take into account any background pollution. (This has been a big point of contention in the ongoing fight over the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station.)

“You have to look at the whole picture and the cumulative impact that EJ populations have been bearing the brunt of,” Belén Power says. “It makes a big difference to look at the entire picture and all of the burdens that communities like Chelsea, East Boston, Brockton and so many others are already carrying.”

If this provision becomes state law, it could have a really big impact on where big infrastructure and energy projects can be sited, she says.

That last sentence serves us a warning. Utility facilities have to be sited somewhere. They can;’t be floated up in the sky but must stand on planet Earth. Given passage of this amendment, where, then, will utility facilities be sited ? If not in or near an “:environmental justice” community, then where ? In a community that is not entitled by law to “environmental; justice” ? The language of the amendment suggest that it’s OK to place an electric power substation or gas pipeline transfer house in a neighborhood of higher income, or that is home to a smaller population of color than protected by the Madaro amendment. Yet communities of this sort have political clout. Will they approve such a utility station ? I am betting not. It’s in such communities that one finds the bulk of climate crisis activists.

Where, then, can a new or renovated electric port gas facility be sited ? Probably they can’t be sited anywhere.

There are plenty of environmental activists who would be quite happy to see electric and gas facilities disappear. Solar and wind, those are their thing. Let’s not forget that the so-called “Green New Deal” envisions just this, not to mention an end to airplanes (!)

I mention airplanes because, as State Representative Madaro specifies, the East Boston neighborhood which he represents lives with enormous environmental impacts from Logan Airport. Logan could never be built today, unlike in the 1920s. It abuts East Boston. planes almost skim East Boston rooftops as they come in for landing. Take-off noise often deafens residents. Jet fuel burns create substantial pollution. Car traffic to and from the airport stuffs east Boston streets. If any Massachusetts community houses environmental overload, East Boston is it.

There’s also an electric substation issue in East Boston. For three years now, Eversource has sought to build one on empty land abutting Chelsea Creek — empty but neighbor to a fish processing plant, baseball field and numerous homes. The proposed site fails on all kinds of levels, and I have written opposing it. I still do oppose it. My objections, however, have had to stand on their own criteria. These haven’t a law to fall back on, one that precludes the substation for reasons whose application creates a “catch-22.”

If the 2050 Roadmap Bill is enacted — which it likely will be — objections to the Eversource substation will be mooted, and my friends who oppose it can celebrate. But their celebration comes at the cost of creating a law that imposes next to impossible conditions on utility services, which we all need. Even East Boston needs them. Good luck getting them henceforth. And what of the airport, whjich expands all the time as Boston becomes ever more commerce-prosperous ? Oh well, that isn’t the legislature’s problem, I guess. If they make it hard for businesses to op;erate, or for customers to access them, well, that’s just collateral damage ?

Proposals like the Eversource substation should have to stand or fall ON THEIR OWN MERITS, not have their prospects barred by legislation that simply overrides the major issues involved because it’s easier to close doors than to have to make decisions on who they can open for.

—- Mike Freedberg / Hereand Sphere

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