Sounder SIGN UP FOR FREE
Stories from the Frontlines
Stories from the Frontlines

Season 1, Episode 2 · 6 months ago

Lose the Forest for the Trees

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Stories from the Frontlines is back this week with Ian McDonald, from No More Dirty Power in Killingly! He and his neighbors are fighting a new power plant in Killingly, CT.

Hear about how this plant got rubber stamped, how it will hurt an already overburdened community, and why Ian and others have stepped up to stop it.

Check out Ian’s group on Facebook (No More Dirty Power in Killingly). Other groups supporting the work include Connecticut Climate Crisis Mobilization, Sierra Club CT, Sunrise CT, 350 CT, and Save the Sound, all also on Facebook.

Learn more about Community Action Works on our website: https://communityactionworks.org/.

We’re also on Facebook (Community Action Works), Twitter (@ComActionWorks), and Instagram (@ComActionWorks)

Hello and welcome back to stories from the front lines brought to you by community action works. At Community Action Works, we believe that environmental threats are big, but the power of well organized community groups is bigger. That's why we work side by side with everyday people to confront those who are polluting and harming the health of our communities. I'm one of your hosts, near a Pajahmni, the western Massachusetts community organizer with Community Action Works, and I'm Shaneah Kasper, the Vermont and New Hampshire State Director with community action works. Each episode of this podcast will bring on a new community member or activist to share their story about taking on environmental threat from the front lines. This season's theme is stories about our energy system and our regional grid operator in the northeast. So today, to talk about another local example of an energy fight, we have Ian McDonald, a resident of Killingly, Connecticut and a member of the community group no more dirty power in killingly. Welcome Ian. Hello. Thanks so much for being here. Ian. Can you introduce yourself and your group? Yeah, absolutely so in Bonald I live of here in Killingley, Connecticut, and northeastern corner of Connecticut. Not Too far from the Rhode Island and Massachusetts borders and our group is no more dirty, barren Killingley. And it's called that because we had have one power plant in a large gas power plant, and there's another six hundred fifty megawatt gas power plant that we've been fighting for since two thousand and sixteen. So hence the no more dirty power awesome.

Thanks for sharing a little bit about that. Can you tell us a bit about you? We're background, who you are, how you got involved in this fight? Yeah, so, well, I'm I mean I'm a Stonemason by my own by trade, and I guess I got involved I first heard about this. I can't remember if it was in the paper or from a from a friend who was concerned about it, but you know, I there was an informational meeting back in July of two thousand and sixteen, I believe, in and it was about this new big new power plant and and and I went to that and I was, you know, it's you know, I had general kind of climate concerns and whatnot, but I didn't know at the time what to make of, you know, the specific concerns from this plan. So I went there, you know, with a reasonably open mind, I would say. And just you know, at the meeting it was a it was a little disturbing as as to there was kind of this big board of kind of corporate lawyers and types and people from the company, and it's got to went on and on and on and on. We're supposed to be able to ask questions, but there was very little time for that to happen and I finally asked a question. You know, we have the one power plant my young my what now? Is My older son now, but what had just been born and I was just concerned about the health impacts on that and I knew we had already had high, double the national average of Asth Mauritslow, you know, in this area. And you know, what is a second plant going to do? And so there's this very, very, very long answer that this lawyer, I believe, gave and at the end of it was that, well, your air is going to be cleaner. And and you know, I'm asking how he know, how he knows this and what he's saying. Well, the local are monitoring. You know,...

...we think it's we you know, speculated they are will be cleaner. Well, the local are monitoring was in East Hartford Connecticut, which anybody which is halfway across the state, against the prevailing winds. So this is what and he was very cloudy about giving this answer. So now, even from the reports that we were getting back, we knew that wasn't the case. We knew we were going to have, you know, significant, significantly higher levels of Otwo and and really all the flu ands. So this was a this was a red flag for me and I certainly became concerned at that point, I would say, and and just kind of, you know, started becoming engaged, mostly as a resident at that point. But I mean, yeah, how is the you're going to get cleaner? That just makes no sense. Putting in a new power plant. What the heck? But so you said you started getting involved this as a resident. When how did you start to build your group and get more people involved? Well, well, really what happened was, I would say in the first little piece here, I was involved as as a concern resident basically, and I was going to the you know, there was a meeting before the siding council and, you know, and speaking at that and we had, you know, we had an excellent, you know, local turnout for that and I thought, you know, we're you know, this is they if they hear that, you know, they hear what everybody saying. They hear, you know, we already have a power plant and they you know, there's three schools and that, you know, in the village where this power plant is going. And you know, of course they're going to say, you know, we didn't really need the power particularly. So, you know, having heard all this, I thought, Oh, I think we made our case. Well, that was not so, not so act, were it? After a kind of going to this to these me you know, meetings and the public hearings...

...and everything. You know, I saw in the paper. I open up the paper at my parents house and I saw that, you know, actually on the front page it always said that, you know, power plant denied and and there was like, you know, our state senator there was there with the big thing, smiling because she'd been against it. And you know, I thought like Oh, we you know, we did, oh, we're done, you know, success, you know. So, you know, stupid me, I'm like thinking like, you know, we want and you know, I happened to run into a friend of mine who I knew was a post to it as well, I said, well, you know, that's great about the power plant. You know, we showed them, you know, and that he said, not so fast, you know, they're that's what I found out. They were reapplying, you know, and they were. They're reapplied to Isasoh and then, which is you know, has a auctions of grant, the auctions afford capacity, auctions for these, for these power plants, and sure enough, they they reapplied in the winter and they were granted that. And then soon after the Department of Energy and environmental protection granted went along with them and granted the environmental and the the need for the plant, and and so, you know, I certainly had a very much a false sense of security and it also had the effect, I think, of really demobilizing all of these local residents who came out who weren't coming out specifically as and, you know, activists, and I don't think there are too many at that point. So we really were kind of starting from scratch in a way. I mean we had, you know, some information and we had some engage people, but we also had a lot of disengage people who thought that they had defeated a power plant. He tells a bit more about what this power plant is. Gas Plant? Is it like?...

What type of yeah, it's IT'S A it's a six hundred fifty megawatt gas plant, the majority of which, you know, is coming from, you know, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And for some of our listeners who are familiar with speaker plants from some of the other work that we're doing, this is not a peak. This would be running all the time. Right that that is somewhat I believe that's what they're telling their investors. I think that story kind of shifts depending on who they're talking to. When they're talking through the local residents, so maybe we won't have to run it too much, you know, but when they're talking, but in order to make a profit, they likely will have to run it quite often. And you know, Connecticut does not need the power itself. This is going to be exported. And you know enetquet itself is band fracking, but we're still using all this power from fract gas. So in I know this power plant is slated to be built in killingly, where you mentioned they're already is another power plant. Can you share a bit more about what the community looks like in terms of residents who live there out as environmental justice factor into this? Yeah, so, you know, I mean obviously I'm living here. I love my town, but you know it has been listed as a distressed municipality, you know, nearly every year for the past you know, twenty years or whatever, and which means, you know, poured doubt, you know, more or less, or or so it's, you know, we have one power plant, we have some of the highest asmurrats in Connecticut and double the national average. So to me, you know, there's an ashland filled right it over the border, you know. So to be the environmental justice peace feels, you know, fairly obvious from a low income perspective of just kind of, you know, already having health concerns, already having a power plant and so...

...and and really the community largely being targeted because, you know, I don't think if we're wealthy community they'd be trying to put the second power plant in. And and just also the disingenuousness of saying, you know, some air monitor halfway across the straight. As a local, you know Air Monitor. So I think that that certainly, you know, it's certainly a frustration, I think, and I know it's one that other communities, particularly communities of color, of dealt with where, you know, polluting industries get really, really approved very quickly, despite, you know, how that affects, you know, local communities, and I guess for this I was just very disturbed by you know, there's all of this great, you know, rhetoric about environmental justice, but at the end of the day you're putting two power plants in one town, you know, in the same village as where my kids are going to all of their schools and and all the kids they go to are going to all their schools, and there's, you know, there is an elderly care places there, you know. So it's just seems like an obvious thing that any functioning environmental justice, you know, set up by the state, should be dealing with, and just doesn't register. But yeah, definitely a problem that we see happening all too often, with the same communities being hit over and over again and states starting to move in the direction of having more environmental justice protections but not yet really seen that play out in terms of keeping polluting industries out of these neighborhoods. It seems like you are so on top of so much of the science that's been happening on this. And also know a lot of members of your group or maybe when you get started,...

...you were not experts on energy or power plants, and you know so often that's the case when community leaders take on industries like this. And so when you first get started, how did this, you know, shape your approach? How do you think that you know, not being caught, you know, expert science technology walks. How is that a strength in your group? I think it's a strength in that for me it's like my kids are going to school right here. You know, we have no air monitors. You know, it's pretty simple and and so I think you know, no ambient locally are Mont like truly local air monitors. So I think to me that that point seems very obvious. And I think too, it's doesn't seem to be obvious to the folks that are department of Energy and environmental protection. It doesn't seem to be obvious at all to the company that this would be a concern, even though they certainly heard it enough. And so I think just having that kind of that kind of you I don't know something about when people just get into these documents, they kind of lose the for, you know, the forest, for the trees. So I think in that sense, you know, it's I don't know if that makes sense. Yeah, definitely, and I think what you're getting at there a little bit in is this idea of the personal stake in it. That is very different from somebody who cares about the numbers and the facts and figures, which is also really important. But you actually live there and you and your family are impacted by the air quality there and you mentioned your son's. Can talk a bit about what that looks like for other members in the group and the importance of telling your stories as residents and how that has factored into your work? Yeah, well, you know, I think it's some you know, again, we were not we're coming at it mostly from, you know, local folks who...

...are just con concerned about this and yeah, I think it's it's everybody has a different story, you know. So a lot of our folks were kind of on the older end of the spectrum. So, you know, a plant like this and can be a serious effect. I mean for me, you know, I know my motherin law suffers from pretty serious asthma and CELPD, so you know, and she's out in our guard, you know. So you, just a lot of folks in our group are in a similar boat. Maybe not with all was serious health, so serious health concerns, but still just, you know, being in your S, or or so it's you have to be, you know, if you want to be breathing clean. Errors just a you know, important thing. But yeah, I feel like you're you're under selling yourselves a little bit saying you're just a bunch of residents who are just concerned. I mean, I think that is that is so often those are the people who step up and stop things like this, because you are the ones out who are going to be most impacted. Well, I mean to be fair, I mean we have a few people who are one thing that was very helpful was we have one resident who was had fought another power plant right over the border and Burvo, Rhode Island, and so he kind of came in and not as an expert. He lives in killing Lee as well, but he brought something to it. And then we have, we do have some people that have brought some previous experience. So I don't want to make it seem as though we were just, you know, all fell off the pumpkin truck. But it's but but a lot of us are you know, we're not. We're not a big well funded group. We don't have a lot of you know, it's mostly local residents who are just concerned about that. Yeah, I know, that's that's sounds like a lot of what we've been hearing from other folks as well. But there's some folks who bring in a specific or unique perspective. But that by bringing all these different folks together and forming a group, that's how you get...

...your voice that's heard and how you get organized and and can build power to be able to win. And so I'm just wondering if I can go back to that question from a little while ago of how did you go about putting your campaign together, you know, figuring out where to focus your attention and what what tactics to use where against what decisionmakers? Can you can share a little bit about how your group together and what you did? Yeah, I think. I think. What you know, we continue to monitor the normal approval process and you know, people would go to Hartford to give testimony or they would submit testimony on every different little permit, you know. So we did continue to kind of mind our P's and q's in that respect, even though it didn't seem to be doing much. But then, particularly after two thousand and nineteen, I think we started to say, you know, we really need to be putting some more overt pressure on the governor, you know, and the commissioner of deep because all of this process, you know, we felt like we'd really engaged in it in an honest way, you know, and and and been very direct and really had very little to show for it. So, you know, I think at that point our focus became a little more on, you know, continuing to get local engagement, but also continue to pressure those key decision makers. So what did that pressure look like? Were you looking for media attention or delivering petition signatures, or how were you trying to convey that the king he was against this? Yeah, I mean we've had local protests going back for four years now, for on the corner in town, usually bi weekly protests, at least during the you...

...know, non winter months, handing out flyers and, you know, signs and as kind of a local centric actress action that we've always also participated along with other environmental groups in the state, but at rallies, at the capital Car Caravan in front of the governor's mansion. We just had a large and environmental racism protest, or kind of a town speaking event more than a just normal protest, I would say, but at Bush and Old Park and Hartford. So you know, we we've stayed engaged both locally and at the state level. I would say is, you know, it's been a mix and and we've had and we've had really we have had good support from you know, other groups, you know other environmental see our club save the sound griefct have also been supportive. So there's been some good coordination there. But yeah, well, I know campaigns also go through ebbs and flows, right and especially over the past year and a half, two years with covid swollen a lot of things way down. How did the pandemic alter your work? Recently talked about the Car Caravan. Was that? Was that during the past? Yeah, in the pandemic? Yeah, well, we had we had two of those and right at the beginning of kind of covid and then one this past February, and I think they're you know, we had it. I don't know, we had thirty to fifty cars, something like that, and I think there was some hesitancy in people getting out for that. And then I think the other the other difficulty we've had with covid is, you know,...

...we used to have these pretty big meetings at the local killingly library. Certain number of folks didn't really hop onto zoom. They didn't make that switch. So there was kind of a core of us that worse remained a little more engaged, and then some folks who still very much care about the issue but are not. So we're still trying to reform those. You know, it wasn't any kind of Split, it was just people kind of dropped off a little bit. Yeah, keep it. Keeping the group cohesive and together and strategizing together is is always hard, and then trying to do it on technologies, and I don't one's comfortable with a definitely makes things more mounging. Yeah, I'm sure there are also other inflection points in the campaign that were more external or more related, you know, to the campaign as well. Can you can you share one or two and kind of what the reactions were for yourself and for the group that went along with them? Yeah, well, if I've already mentioned the reapproval of, you know, the approval in you know. So we kind of have the first first bit. That what we're I think we have had success is that, you know, several of us, a lot of folks, have talked with the governor and I think he understands now. I think has a pretty good sense of people's concerns here and he understands on what needs to happen with this for this plan not to happen and that, if you know, if he wants to be the climate leader that he says he wants to be, you know this is not this is not the direction we should be going. So I think I think we've had some clarity in that we've gotten our message through on that and with the I think, you know, I think one of the inflection points, honestly, it's just his past summer, the obviousness of the climate crisis. I think it's it's much more difficult to think. I think that's put a certain...

...pressure on things and it's made it much more difficult to think that we can continue with fossil fuel expansion. You know, both with the IPCC report and just us the flooding at, you know, all across the state and regionally, and the hurricane and everything else, you know, and the skies be you know, it's just been I think that has in fact been a little bit of an inflection point, because I think it's clear now what's at stake. And the question is, you know, these decision makers are very clear on in their messaging about, you know, we have to take the lead and climate change. We can't, you know, all this great language, but then when you ask them, here's a large power plant that we don't need, that we could, you know, cut carbon, you know, contain you know, emissions, you know, drastically with you know, and it's kind of like everybody scatters it. Oh, so it's but definitely. And can you just give us a quick status updated? Where do things stand now in terms of is this is a plant? Have all of its permits? Are there some steps left in that? So there's there's a couple of things. There's one outstanding appeal permit with deep so that's one thing we're kind of continue to push on. And and and that's the Department of Environmental Protection and Connecticut Energy and environmental pet protection great and you know. And it's this pipeline that's going through fourteen different wetlands and you know, autobond property and everything else. So hopefully, you know, again, this doesn't seem to under the whin a bog river. So you know there's a lot of threatened species there. So we're hoping maybe this, you know, somebody though this this hit somebody. But the other things are there's still in this outstanding lawsuit and...

...and then there is and then the other things. I would say there's a question. We don't know exactly what their relationship is with all the different landowners. Have they really secured that? And then finally they have. There's been a lot of talk about we have financing, but we don't know if they have enough financing or they have a little bit of financing and they're puffing it up so that they can sell it to other funders. So those are the areas that were kind of hang on right now. Maybe you shared some about how dire it feels and how hard it can be to organize when the future seems, you know, with the future of climate changes, is so scary. So we're yeah, where do you get hope? You know, I get some hope from the fact that it's not climate change is more has, I think, has been more in the news than I've ever seen recently, and so it's not such a fringe issue anymore. And you know, and I get some hope from the other people on working with who you know just their commitment and and and their dedication. I think, I think I continue to get hope from that. So thanks for sharing that. Yes, it sounds like generally, you know, building this group of folks who are fighting against this this issue and changing the narrative around the climate crisis and creating change in your community, that those are all really hopeful things, really exciting. And you reference this a little bit earlier on in you talked a bit about Iaso and how they approved this project and I'm wondering, you know, on this season of the podcast we're talking to a lot of community groups where Iaso New England is behind the scenes pulling the strings in some capacity. Can you say a little bit more about how you and your group have run into that...

...kind of Ioso New England Wall on on this project? Yeah, I mean, I think, I think you know. Obviously one one frustration is just how little you know. Climate still this despite a lot of good language. Again, how little you know. Climate still still seems to figure with with Isao and and also health concerns, like these things are. That's just not totally their mandate, you know. So I find that terribly frustrating. I mean, I think anybody who has that much impact on what's being built at this point needs to be engaged on those things as well. So, more specifically, you know, one thing we've seen was that as soon as I is so granted this, the citing council was ready to approve it, and deep hast basically has said at one point that, you know, their hands were kind of tied by what ISO was doing. Now Isao, as said, you know. Well, locally, you know this is your responsibility. You know it's you know, but there's been this finger pointing dynamic that goes on between ISO when the states. I don't know if it's like that everywhere, but it's certainly it's been like that in Connecticut and even locally, you know, it was presented when the the town council came up with their tax stabilization agreement or whatever, this was kind of presented as a done deal, like we don't really have any say in this, you know, you just have to sign off on this. And and I think is ISSO's granting of the auction was certainly a big part of that. So whether or not, I'm not sure how much of the blame pie they deserve in that, but they are certainly being seen as kind of forcing everybody else's hand in the states and and just generally. I think that's a problem of climate change. Everybody's against it until their decisionmaker and then nobody surround nobody wants to take any any responsibility for anything. So that's been a running theme and one of the most...

...deeply frustrating things about this. You know, whole experience. Yeah, and you've been in this fight for a while. Your Kid, your first kid, was a baby. You know, he's howld. You just turned seven. You just turned seven, so it's a that's a long time. What did you expect when you got first got involved, you know, and and now looking back, what would you tell that that you know, seven years ago? Ian? Yeah, about what they would need to fight this fight? Yeah, I mean I think one thing I I would I would value, and this is very banal, but all this stuff you're learning and this is happening and this is happening. The more you can aggregate this in a way that's a searchable document where you can look and say this person said this on this such and such a date and this is this happened. You know, you have a clear timeline of everything. May Be different articles that were printed. So because I think one thing that's frustrating in this whole thing is you're trying to your kind of always like racking your brain for okay, this happened then and then this person was talking about this, but how solid was that? And so I think just having a great for anybody who's encountering something. Take good notes, have everything in one place, because you're so focused on that fight right then that you're not thinking you're going to need it in three years from now. Yeah, it's like you're not anticipating doing it for, you know, for years or five years or whatever, you know. So I would certainly, you know, do that and I would also say that, you know, again, I started kind of as a resident and probably a little, I think some of us a little more naively maybe in terms of thinking that, you know, the environmental justice portion and Connecticut would be taken a little more seriously or, you know, just the air quality...

...and all these kinds of things. And I would say you know, might you know, go through the process that you're supposed to. Maybe it will work. But Um, I would say also think about really bringing that political pressure early, because that might be a critical time. You know, you might not be fighting for the last permit. Maybe you're you get a little earlier on that. So you know they're earlier you can bring that pressure, probably the better. Yeah, those are all such great insights for someone just getting started and I love your point about, you know, organization, keeping things documented. That is a less glamorous but so important part of organizing. I want to say a huge thank you to Ian McDonald's for coming on and sharing his story with us today to support the killing Lee campaign. Check out the links in the show notes. Thank you all for tuning in this week. Join US again next time. As we talked to Rosemary Wessel and Jane Win from the Berkshire Environmental Action Team about some power plants in Berkshire County Massachusetts. And if you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe to this podcast on whatever podcast platform us so you don't miss a new episode. As a good posted and write us a review to help others find us too to learn more about community action works. Check out our website and our social media again. All of those links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and talk to you next week. Stories from the front lines is brought to you by community action works. It is recorded by me near a PA Johnny, with support from Shana Casper, edited and produced by Lilly McLaughlin. Special thanks to Theo Rosen for research and development, to Gage Calhoun for supporting this project through her fundraising work and to Aaron Matthew for composing and recording the original music.

We wouldn't be able to make this happen without the incredible work of the movement and the support of the community action works team, especially Ruthy rickenbacker. Our campaigns are made possible through our does, paying members, donors and funders, but really through the hard and tireless work of our community leaders who've been fighting pollution and seating solutions across the region since seven thank you.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (8)