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Bridgeport Residents Release Balloon Banner at City Hall: “Fracked Gas is Environmental Racism”

By Dan Fischer, et. al. - Capitalism vs the Climate, February 2, 2016

Bridgeport, CT—PSEG expected to celebrate on Monday night as Bridgeport’s city council voted to endorse the company’s plan to replace its Bridgeport Harbor coal-fired power plant with a new fracked gas plant in 2021. Some environmentalists had even signed onto the agreement. To PSEG, it looked like local criticism would finally be silenced, that the company could maintain a “green” image while continuing to pollute one of Connecticut’s most vulnerable communities.

The corporate polluters must have been disappointed, then, when a group of Bridgeport residents and teachers, some of them members of Capitalism vs. the Climate, flooded a short public hearing preceding the city council session with a barrage of comments opposing the proposed fracked gas plant. As 10 year-old Jaysa Mellers spoke out against the proposal, with the words “no coal, no gas, go green!”, a Bridgeport-based member of Capitalism vs. the Climate released a banner tied to a bundle of balloons. The banner floated to the high ceiling, and city councillors and residents read its message: “Fracked gas is environmental racism! No coal, no gas!”

“Environmental racism is when an unfair share of pollution is placed on communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. That’s what is happening in Bridgeport. PSEG is making it worse by trying to open a new gas plant, which would continue to release pollution in the air for decades,” said Gabriela Rodriguez, a nineteen year-old Bridgeport resident and a member of Capitalism vs. the Climate.

PSEG reports that its new gas plant would release into the air nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, lead, and other pollutants, causing emphysema, bronchitis, learning deficits, heart disease, cancer, and asthma triggers. Moreover, fracked gas is highly flammable and known to frequently leak. The result can be deadly. From 1995 to 2014, there were 371 deaths and 1,395 injuries due to reported pipeline incidents.

PSEG wants to put the gas plant where the coal plant currently stands, locking in decades of fossil fuel infrastructure in an area where 30 percent of residents are black and 30 percent are latin@. Some Bridgeport residents ask why the company has chosen their city instead of any of Fairfield County’s white, wealthy suburbs. To add insult to injury, PSEG’s proposed fracked gas plant, like its existing coal plant, would stand adjacent to the Mary and Eliza Freeman houses, the oldest houses in Connecticut built and owned by African Americans. From 1821 until the Civil War, the neighborhood had been a prosperous community of free people of color including African Americans and indigenous Paugussets. Historians say it may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

“By putting a gas plant here, PSEG is basically saying that black lives do not matter to them,” declared Tiffany Mellers, a Bridgeport resident and veteran, and the mother of Jaysa. Several years ago, Ms. Mellers had to rush Jaysa to the hospital to receive emergency treatment for asthma. Ms. Mellers then got involved in the campaign against PSEG’s coal-fired power plant, but she never supported the company’s offer to simply switch from one fossil fuel to another.

“PSEG harms poor communities, from Indonesia to Bridgeport. When they say they will build a new fossil fuel plant, we can not expect it to somehow be green,” said Rick Perez, a Bridgeport resident and a teacher at Harding High School. PSEG purchases its coal from Adaro, an Indonesian mining company that has displaced and poisoned the water supplies of entire communities in the South Kalimantan region. The coal is then brought to Bridgeport and burned in the South End neighborhood in a power plant that the NAACP and Indigenous Environmental Network rank as one of the ten worst coal plants in terms of environmental justice.

“Over the years I have seen so many students suffering from asthma and for those who would like to research the issue, the effects of gas plant emissions can be really detrimental to people’s health. Now, the city is standing by as PSEG wants to build another fossil fuel plant instead of moving to community-controlled wind and solar power, so I am not on board with the company’s plan,” said Mr. Perez.

Brittany Groat, a member of Capitalism vs. the Climate, moved to Bridgeport’s Lafayette Boulevard last year, a few blocks away from PSEG’s coal plant. “I had asthma as a child, but it has not acted up for years, until I moved to Lafayette Boulevard. Now, I’m having trouble breathing all the time,” said Ms. Groat. “PSEG’s coal plant is dangerous, but so is the fracked gas plant they want to build. A gas plant exploded in Middletown in 2010, killing six workers. My family, who lived nearby, said they felt the ground shake and things fell off of their shelves. Now, a gas leak is causing thousands of people to evacuate their homes in Los Angeles. Fracking can never be safe.

Along with Capitalism vs. the Climate, members of 350-Connecticut also showed up to support Bridgeport residents fighting PSEG’s coal and gas power plants. While the Bridgeport-based Healthy CT Alliance has not taken a unified position against the gas plant, some of their members went to the hearing to testify as individuals against the proposal.

Capitalism vs. the Climate consulted with a number of Bridgeport residents and teachers before deciding to release the balloon banner at City Hall. Some of the people who supported the action did not want their names attached, for professional or personal reasons. Capitalism vs. the Climate is a horizontally-organized group that acts in solidarity with the communities most impacted by the climate crisis. The group pointed out that Robert Howarth and other scientists at Cornell University have found that fracked gas is worse for the climate than coal is, when methane leaks from pipelines and the extraction process are taken into account.

“Climate change is a major example of environmental racism,” said Ms. Rodriguez. “Right now 98 percent of the people dying from climate change are in the Global South, and the pollution causing it is unfairly placed in communities of color. While I’m a Bridgeport resident, this gas plant is a global issue, since fracked gas is even dirtier than coal when it comes to climate change.”

Ms. Rodriguez remained unphased after the city council voted, as expected, to endorse PSEG’s new fracked gas plant: “PSEG should not celebrate too much. Regardless of what the city council says, we’re not going to stop fighting this project.”

Support grassroots organizing and direct action against fracked gas in Bridgeport by donating at this link set up for us by FANG. The funds raised will be spent under the direction of a committee of Bridgeport residents who oppose PSEG’s fracked gas proposal.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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