The moment that we have been waiting for is officially here. Our lawyers and expert witnesses have spent a lot of time preparing for the hearing on our appeal of Enbridge’s air quality permit. We honestly can’t thank our incredible team enough for all that they’ve put into this fight. Today was really intense! Our witnesses held nothing back, and it was quite clear that Enbridge’s lawyers were not prepared. There were some really amazing exchanges, including Nathan Phillips calling out DEP’s unethical moves. We will have video footage of everything soon.
There are 19 witnesses scheduled to take the stand for cross-examination. The parties include: Enbridge, MassDEP, Town of Weymouth, Town of Braintree, FRRACS, City of Quincy, Town of Hingham, and HRAC (Hingham Residents Against the Compressor Station). The only parties who have witnesses are Enbridge, MassDEP, Town of Weymouth, Town of Braintree, and FRRACS. None of the witnesses for FRRACS were paid. The hearing is scheduled to go through this Friday, May 17.
Members of the media were present the whole day, including Craig LeMoult of WGBH, Chris Lisinsky of State House News Service, and Itai Vardi, independent investigative journalist for Desmog and the Huffington Post. We are really glad that the media attended and reported on this important hearing. It’s vital that these proceedings are made available to the public. In addition to media presence, Andrea Honore (#sitwithandrea) rented video equipment from WCA and recorded all of the proceedings. Those videos will be available soon. Many, many thanks to Andrea for making sure the hearing was recorded.
As today was the first day of the hearing, we had a lot folks in attendance to show their support. We gathered before the hearing began for a group photo, decked out in our safety masks and “No Compressor” stickers (see images below). There were about 50 people in attendance today, many of who are allies from Mothers out Front. We are grateful for their support!
Mothers of Front held a press conference outside of DEP during the hearing. They called attention to the many health impacts that the compressor station poses. Members of FRRACS spoke at the press conference, including Rev. Betsy Sowers. WGBH attended the press conference too.
Day 1 - Testimonies
NO MICS: Before the hearing began, FRRACS made a request for “reasonable accommodations” because one of our expert witnesses has hearing loss, and we wanted to be sure that the proceeding was audible and accessible. When the hearing began at 9am, it became immediately clear that no effort was made to set up sound equipment. The room was packed and the parties were set up in a square at the front of the room, so many times people had their backs to the audience when speaking, which made it difficult to hear. The room had speakers hardwired into the ceiling, which would lead one to believe that the room is set up to accommodate sound equipment like microphones. Despite asking participants to speak up several times, it was very difficult to hear. We put out a call on social media to have folks make calls to the DEP and State Disability Office to request sound equipment (i.e. micrphones) be set up in the room. One microphone was brought into the room before the lunch break. They did not have a stand for the microphone, so they placed it in a paper cup. It was very frustrating to see just how unprepared DEP was for this hearing.
Town of Weymouth
Dr. Phil Landrigan - Dr. Landrigan is the founding director of BC's Global Public Health Initiative. He is an expert in the area of environmental health, among many other things. He is also a member of the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Landrigan criticized DEP’s uneven permitting process for different projects. He brought up the Clean Harbors hazardous waste site proposal from the 1990’s and differences between the DEP’s process with that application and the compressor station proposal. The DEP denied permits for the facility citing concerns about high levels of respiratory diseases in the area and presence of vulnerable populations nearby. The DEP did not try to blame health issues on smoking at the time, even though smoking rates were higher. The key difference? The Governor. Dukakis did the right thing. Baker? So far, not so much. Dr. Landrigan pointed out the DEP has not reached similar conclusions about the compressor, despite there still high levels of health issues and EJ communities in the area.
You can read Dr. Landrigan’s testimony here.
Mary Ellen Schloss - Mary works for the Town of Weymouth. Enbridge and DEP did not have any questions for her.
Dr. Curt Nordgaard - Dr. Nordgaard is a pediatrician who has been part of our fight since the beginning. He worked with FRRACS to help us collect air quality samples in the Basin. His testimony was in relation to his knowledge of health and air pollution, and his work on an analyzing air quality samples.
Cross-Examination by Enbridge: Curt explained that the air quality in the Basin is poor, for many reasons, one of those being the vessels that come in and out of the port. Ralph Child, an attorney for Enbridge, tried to pin the presence of pollutants in the Basin on smokers. He brought up smoking many times but did not reference the 10 different industrial facilities in the Basin. Oh, and did you know that the human body produces formaldehyde? Yup. So don’t worry about all of those toxic facilities in the community; they are not to blame for levels of pollution. This is quite literally the direction Attorney Child (Enbridge) was going in.
Curt also pointed out the the DEP does not have a permanent air quality monitor in the Basin, despite the fact that there are 10 industrial facilities in the area. Mr Child did not have a response to this.
Cross-Examination by DEP: The DEP did not have any questions for Curt.
Professor Nathan Phillips - Nathan Phillips is a professor at Boston University. He has been an ally for many years. He has worked on gas leak issues for many years and has been a vocal, active supporter of our fight. He spoke about the current levels of pollution in the Basin, the potential health impacts of the proposed compressor station, and brought up the many conflicts of interests between DEP and Enbridge. It was a really intense exchange.
Cross-Examination by Enbridge: Enbridge lawyer, Nick Cram, asked Nathan about his “personal knowledge of conflicts of interest”. Nathan referred to the many emails and documents obtained by Itai Vardi (Desmog), which showed that DEP and Enbridge communicated about modeling parameters and more. Nathan also brought up the financial conflicts that the state (Gov. Baker) have with this project. Nick was not happy. He continued with his line of questioning and honestly dug himself a really deep hole.
Here’s some background on the points that Nathan brought up (Desmog - Massachusetts Admits to 'Regularly' Allowing Companies to Edit Draft Pollution Permits, 2017). And this one (Exclusive: Air Permit OK’d After New Evidence of Carcinogens at Enbridge’s Planned Gas Facility in Massachusetts Left out, 2019)
Cross-Examination by DEP: DEP lawyer asked Nathan is was familiar with the permit process at DEP, with the attention to break holes in the argument that it was unethical for DEP and Enbridge to collaborate on Enbridge’s draft air pollution plan. Nathan argued that EPA guidance doesn't say a regulatory agency can be involved with a proponent in the way DEP has been with Enbridge. Nathan explained that there is a difference between consultation and collaboration. He was arguing that DEP and Enbridge were collaborating as opposed to seeking consultation. DEP attempted to argue him on this point. They weren’t very successful. The DEP also tried to say that Nathan was saying DEP employees had financial conflict of interest with DEP and he corrected DEP many times that that was not at all what he was saying. He stated that the state (and it’s agencies, like DEP) have financial conflicts of interest. He stated that the DEP’s conflcits “do not to me seem to be consistent with a neutral body that's evaluating and serving as a regulator.” We agree.
Itai Vardi captured part of this exchange on video. You can watch it here.
You can read Nathan’s testimony here.
Alice Arena - Alice is the founder of FRRACS. She is an incredible force to be reckoned with. She takes on many roles within FRRACS and is an all-around good person. Alice prepared testimony in relation to the physical collection of air quality samples. She led the effort with guidance from Dr. Nordgaard. She ultimately was not asked to testify as Enbridge and DEP did not have questions for her.
Frank Singleton - Frank is a Weymouth resident who has been working with FRRACS on the compressor station issue for many years. He has a background in public health as the Health Commissioner for Lowell, MA. He has expertise in sea level rise/flooding and on the Weymouth Conservation Commission. He worked on the Clean Harbors hazardous waste facility issue for 10 years, so he has a lot of experience with industrial project proposals. He raised issues about the compressor station and it’s potential health effects. He also brought up the fact that FERC considers the proposed Weymouth compressor station site is a rural location. Funny, considering there are nearly 1,000 homes with a half- mile of the proposed site. Yeah, rural [insert sarcasm here].
Dr. Richard Clapp - Dr. Clapp is a professor emeritus from the BU School of Public Health (Dept. of Environmental Health). He is an expert in the area of environmental health, among many other things. He is also a member of the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility.
After our pre-conferece hearing with the DEP presiding officer, Jane Rothchild, we were told that we would not be allowed to discuss the HIA (Health Impact Assessment). It made absolutely no sense why a document related to, you know, the health in the Basin, would not a permitted topic at an air quality hearing. Despite this decision, Enbridge brought up the HIA a handful of times. The HIA was problematic for many reasons and contained many contradictions, but it did show high levels of pollutants in the Basin. Despite having data that showed high levels of toxins, the HIA concluded that the compressor would not result in any negative health impact and basically said people need to smoke less and exercise more. So, of course, Enbridge used that point in their argument a lot today. They brought up smoking many times.
Cross-Examination by Enbridge: Attorney Child tried to make an argument about how much pollution is acceptable level for public health. Again, he brought up smoking rates and the health impacts of smoking. Dr. Clapp argued against this and stated that levels in the Basin were of concern.
Cross-Examination by DEP: Dr. Clapp talked about allowable pollution limits. DEP seemed to not really care about these guidelines.
Multiple media outlets attended the hearing today. We thank them for their reporting on this important issue.
State House News Service - PROFESSOR ACCUSES DEP OF ACCEPTING ENBRIDGE "COACHING" ON AIR QUALITY (link)
State House News Service - PROTESTERS BOLSTER CASE AGAINST COMPRESSOR STATION (link)
The Patriot Ledger - Compressor station fight heads to Beacon Hill (link)
FRRACS members and friends kept up excellent tweet storms about the hearing. You can read some of their play-by-plays and updates:
@grumpygrumpyowl (Andrea Honore)