A fact is a truth. It is undeniable, unyielding, and perfect. There is no wiggle room within it. And yet…
Jim Gordon’s Energy Management, Inc., through Chelsea Energy, LLC (CE), did an excellent job in 2007 of blurring the lines between fact and fiction in their attempt to gain approval for a 250-watt, diesel-fueled peak power plant on the banks of the Chelsea River, only 1,000 feet from the only elementary school in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Many elected and appointed officials argued that CE misrepresented information, and as we will see, this large corporation employed numerous strategies to warp and manipulate science – facts– of the case to support their environmentally unjust cause. Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, would need to choose a side: the officials or the company.
Under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), Chelsea Energy had to submit an Expanded Environmental Notification Form (EENF), detailing the project’s expected environmental impacts, to the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. Ian Bowles, reviewed the document. In an effort to shortcut proceedings, Chelsea Energy asked for permission to submit only a Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), which Bowles denied, requiring both a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and an FEIR. Bowles also reviewed the DEIR (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”), writing that “at its proposed location, the project appears unlikely to be able to be permitted. If the proponent chooses to continue through the MEPA process, it does so at its own risk” (“Draft Environmental Impact Report”). Many believe these words prompted EMI to terminate its pursuit at the site mere months later.
But how and why did we get to this point? Before Ian Bowles advised the company to discontinue the project, Chelsea Energy, LLC used many tactics to frame the case in ways that would make the plant more likely to win approval.
In both the EENF and the DEIR, Chelsea Energy attempted to cast the diesel-powered plant as a positive addition to the area. The main argument made was that “the project will achieve net air quality benefits by displacing existing ‘spinning reserve’ sources of electricity, including the Mystic 7 and Salem 4 turbines at Mystic Station in Everett and the Salem power plant,” (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”) because “power plants in the NEMA [New England, Massachusetts] area are being operated at environmentally and economically inefficient modes solely for the purpose of providing reserve capacity that could be better met by the quick start capability of the project” (“Draft Environmental Impact Report”). EMI tried to justify this additional “dirty” energy by essentially saying, “it’s not as bad as everything else that’s there,” a flawed argument at best. They also seem to believe that this plant will be replace the aforementioned turbines’ production rather than just adding to it.
Many government officials called BS to this. As Chelsea City Councilor, Paul R. Nowicki, noted, “the other peaking stations will continue to operate as long as they can provide energy at a profitable rate. The development of this facility could even force the older stations to convert to supplying energy beyond just peak periods, spewing additional pollutants into the air” (Casino). At a meeting in January, 2007, a representative of the proponents stated that “Mystic 7…would operate 23% less and therefore reduce total air impacts by 52%,” but Chelsea City Council President, Roseann T. Bongiovanni, writes that “when Boston Generating, the operators of the Mystic Station, was approached with this data, they responded that “Mystic 7 will not be displaced or shut down if the proposed new plant is built” (Casino). Further, that same Chelsea Energy spokesman said that “Salem 4…would operate 42% less and therefore reduce total air impacts by 42%,” and “when the Independent Systems Operators of New England (ISO-NE) were contacted about this project and the statements made by the proponents, ISO-NE stated that when there is a need for energy during peak times, ISONE will call on all of the sources necessary to produce the energy needed” (Casino). So rather than the proposed plant reducing the production of pre-existing plants, all three would potentially operate at the same time. Ian Bowles further added that “no supporting information is provided within the EENF to document that the use of spinning reserve units will change or that commercial and industrial facilities will significantly reduce the use of emergency engines generators” (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”). Clearly the proponent has no real basis for its assertions and merely attempted to spit out some numbers and percentages in order to pacify any resistance. As we will see, this tactic failed a number of times.
EMI attempted to put a positive spin on the project in many other instances. In the DEIR, the proponent “asserts that the project will have minimal impact on the community and the environment through the use of Ultra-Low Sulfur Distillate (ULSD) fuel, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), and a variety of mitigation measures to offset environmental impact” (“Draft Environmental Impact Report”). Chelsea Energy, LLC also “concludes that the net change in vessel supply traffic is unchanged, with or without the project,” to which Bowles responded, “given that project will increase demand for ULSD beyond existing conditions, I believe that this assumption may be flawed” (“Draft Environmental Impact Report”). They further assert that “the project will help the City attract high technology businesses and retain existing food production, warehousing, and other businesses” (Casino). All of these neutral or positive results have little or no merit. Placing a diesel-run power plant in an already-environmentally-damaged community merely dirties it. The project is not glamorous or shiny. It will not attract anything– it will repel everything.
Another common ploy used by the proponent to manipulate the story was the use of hypothetical limits of activity to estimate impacts of the project. EMI stated on countless occasions that they “will limit facility operation to no more than 1,600 turbine hours per year” (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”) and “a maximum 8-hour operating time per day (or 24-hour period)” (“Draft Environmental Impact Report”). Limiting the plant is not an issue, but how it uses these spoken limits can be problematic. First, in the EENF they do not explain exactly how they plan on maintaining the 1,600 hour limit (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”). Nowicki points out that “the plant is ‘expected to operate only during peak energy demand periods.’ The use of the word ‘expected’ appears to leave the door open for operating over above such ‘peak demand periods’” (Casino). Second, and most importantly, they use their made-up limits to calculate environmental impacts rather than worst-case-scenario data. When estimating how much water the plant would use per day, they used an assumption of four-hour days (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”). Perhaps the greatest issue comes with their use of the SCREEN3 model to calculate estimated impacts over different time period. The proponent pro-rated the test, meaning they scaled the results based on their hypothetical time limits for the plant rather than maximum possible usage, which is an issue “because there are no guarantees that the proponents will operate the power plant for less than 8 hours per day or less than 24 hours in one time frame” (Casino). Furthermore, “according to a widely recognized air expert…the proponents should be ‘embarrassed that they attempted to do so’” (Casino). Nowicki claims that “the results of the total SCREEN3 test would exceed EPA limits, if not pro-rated” (Casino). So this misuse of self-created restrictions improperly cushions what would be serious environmental impacts.
Chelsea Energy, LLC tends to present its data in general forms, often lacking explanations of how they arrived at their conclusions. Bowles writes that in the EENF, “much of the information is provided in summary form, and many fundamental questions remain about the proposed project,” as well as “the lack of…more substantial air quality data and analysis within the Expanded ENF does not allow me to evaluate whether all feasible means to avoid potential environmental impacts have been identified and evaluated” (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”). They only said how much traffic would increase, failing to indicate how they came to this (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”). The DEIR also failed to quantify the annual CO2 emissions, despite indicating that they “would total less than 1% of the Massachusetts emissions cap” (“Draft Environmental Impact Report”). They additionally omit significant, even critical information, including the emission rate of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which is “linked to increases in mortality, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, chronic lung disease, asthma, pneumonia, lower and upper respiratory symptoms, days lost at work and emergency room visits” (Casino). The proponent also “assumed that all PM10 was also PM2.5, thereby assuming a worst-case scenario in light of limited data and specific air quality modeling techniques for PM2.5” (“Certificate of the Secretary of Environmental Affairs on the Draft Environmental Impact Report”). Overall, these generalizations tend to cover up holes in the data, while, once again, attempting to satisfy critics.
EMI also tended to ignore the pre-existing environmental conditions when creating data. Bowles notes that “there is no discussion in the EENF of monitored ambient air quality and the potential cumulative effect of the project and existing air quality stressors,” (“Expanded Environmental Notification Form”) and that they “should provide baseline data on public health conditions in order to effectively assess potential future impacts as a result of air emissions from the project” (“Draft Environmental Impact Report”). One of the greatest injustices of the project is that it victimizes communities already in dangerous environmental conditions, and the proponent attempts to ignore those facts.
Bowles’s recommendation for the proponent to discontinue the project at the location came after the determination that the project was not indeed water-dependent as the proponent had indicated, and that an alternative site in Everett was feasible. Chelsea Energy, LLC purported that it would obtain its fuel via boat, making it water-dependent. The fuel would be delivered via boat, but to the Gulf Oil tank located adjacently to the site (“Certificate of the Secretary of Environmental Affairs on the Draft Environmental Impact Report”). Delivery to the actual plant would take place via truck, not boat, hence the ruling. Further, an inland site plan, in Everett, a majority white community, was “not demonstrate[d]” to be “infeasible” (“Certificate of the Secretary of Environmental Affairs on the Draft Environmental Impact Report”). The proponent’s desire to remain at this site and this site only led them to further manipulate the case’s facts and eventually caused them to be advised against the project altogether.
A fact is corporate tool. It is malleable, disputable, and imperfect. There is infinite wiggle room within it. It is the mask behind which the villains hide.
Bowles, Ian. “Certificate of the Secretary of Environmental Affairs on the Draft Environmental Impact Report.” Env.state.ma.us. May 18, 2007. Accessed April 16, 2016.http://web1.env.state.ma.us/EEA/emepa/pdffiles/certificates/051807/13927deir.pdf.
Bowles, Ian. “Certificate of the Secretary of Environmental Affairs on the Expanded Environmental Notification Form.” Env.state.ma.us. January 29, 2007. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://web1.env.state.ma.us/EEA/emepa/pdffiles/certificates/012907/13927eenf.pdf.
Casino, Paul G. “Meeting Notes.” Chelsea City Council, January 22, 2007, 0-30.