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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Classic civil disobedience used at Dominion coal plant

Text and photos by TIM FAULKNER/ News staff 

SOMERSET, Mass. — There were no fire hoses or billy clubs, but it was a long afternoon for the 44 activists arrested during the July 28 protest at the Brayton Point Power Station.

In an orderly manner, police cuffed the trespassers with plastic zip-ties and escorted them from view. They had their photos taken and were driven in police wagons to the Fall River National Guard Armory for fingerprinting and booking, an ordeal that was delayed by computer issues.

“The process was hot and boring, but other than having my hands bound behind my back for about four hours, it wasn’t terrible,” said Beth Milham of Newport. “The (police) forces were as considerate as they could be and still observe protocol.”

Milham was charged with trespassing and was released after paying a $40 fee. She is scheduled to appear in Fall River court Aug. 1. It was her first arrest as an activist. The oldest arrestee, 86-year-old Fred Caswell of Middletown, was shown considerable respect by police. Both joined the rally as members of the Channing Memorial Church in Newport.

Most of the 400-plus activists were from Massachusetts, while others traveled from across New England and New York to join the rally.

Sam Smith, 77, a retired farmer from Williamstown, Mass., joined those detained by police. He was last arrested in 2011 during an environmental protest in Washington, D.C. Smith believes climate-change activism has increased in recent years, but progress isn’t happening fast enough. “I’m surprised there are still so few (activists)," he said. "It’s growing but the base is still small.” Climate-change science has been known for more than 20 years, Smith said, “and nothing has happened yet. The pot is simmering.”

Unhappy neighbors. 

Many residents from the Brayton Point neighborhood watched the protesters with skepticism. Alison Vianney, 48, a lifelong resident of the area, said the power plant is a good neighbor, although some owners have been better than others at controlling coal dust. She recalled a morning several years ago when she awoke with coal dust on her pillow, coating much of the inside of her house.

Climate change is simply a liberal scam, she said. “It is what it is. Why worry about what you can’t control.”

Sale of Brayton Point

A spokesman for Dominion Resources Inc., the owner of the Brayton Point Power Station, said the sale of Dominion to Energy Capital Partners is awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC approval is the final activity that must occur prior to closing. EDITOR'S NOTE: Dominion also owns the Millstone nuclear power plant just 20 miles upwind from Charlestown.

Pollution history

The coal and gas power plant, built in 1963, is on 306 acres of land at the head of Mount Hope Bay. The largest fossil-fuel power plant in New England, it burns burns some 40,000 tons of coal every three days at peak capacity.

Dominion has spent more than $1 billion in mandated environmental improvements, installing new mercury scrubbers and closed-cycle cooling towers. However, the company continues to violate the federal Clean Air Act, and the plant continues to be the biggest toxic polluter in New England, according to Toxics Action Center.

In 2008, Brayton Point emitted more than 37,000 tons of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Studies show most of this pollution spreads and settles in cities and towns across a 30-mile radius from the power plant. Mercury is a neurotoxin with no safe levels of exposure. In 2010, Brayton Point was responsible for nearly half of all mercury emissions in Massachusetts.

In its State of the Air Report 2012, the American Lung Association gave Bristol County, where Somerset is located, a failing grade for ozone air pollution — the only county in the state to go from bad to worse.

Last April, Dominion agreed to pay $13 million in penalties and to fund mitigation projects for violations of the Clean Air Act at Brayton Point and at two other of its coal plants. The EPA also required Brayton Point to install or upgrade pollution controls, such as emission-reducing scrubbers.

Next action

The July 28 protest was one of several recent actions in Washington D.C., Maine, Washington, and Michigan organized by Mass350, Better Future Project and local environmental groups. A week-long march from Somerset to Cape Cod is planned for late August.