Protesters Blockade Planned Pipeline Site Near Nuclear Plant Outside NYC
In Peekskill, New York, just about an hour north of New York City, residents have launched a blockade in efforts to stop the construction of a gas pipeline slated to run only hundreds of feet from the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant.
The proposed project has sparked concerns from residents and nuclear experts that a pipeline break could cause a catastrophic nuclear disaster that would threaten the entirety of New York City. The pipeline is being built by Spectra Energy and is officially known as the Algonquin Incremental Market Project or AIM pipeline.
Peekskill residents and activists escalated the campaign to stop this pipeline's construction by installing a fully sustainable shipping container at the entrance of Spectra's work yard—complete with two activists living inside. Democracy Now! was there as the blockade was launched.
Here's the transcript of the interview:
Juan Gonzalez: In Peekskill, New York, just about an hour north of New York City, residents have launched a blockade in efforts to stop construction of Spectra Energy's Algonquin Incremental Market Project, known as the AIM pipeline, which would carry high-pressure methane gas from Massachusetts through Rhode Island, Connecticut and down to the communities along the Hudson River. In Peekskill, the pipeline is slated to run only hundreds of feet from the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant, sparking concerns from residents and nuclear experts that a pipeline break could cause a catastrophic nuclear disaster that would threaten the entirety of New York City.
Well, only hours ago, Peekskill residents and activists escalated the campaign to stop the pipeline's construction by installing a fully sustainable shipping container at the entrance of Spectra's work yard—complete with two activists living inside. Democracy Now! was there as the blockade was launched.
Lee Stewart: My name is Lee Stewart. We are now on the site, the construction site, of Spectra AIM's pipeline. The workers will be arriving very soon to find our home here now, where they're supposed to be doing work.
Jane Kendall: We have a pouch we can fill with water and put it up here so the sun will heat it, so we can have hot showers.
I'm Jane Kendall. Spectra Energy has put their construction pipe for the pipeline through people's yards, through our woodlands, through our wetlands. Now we're putting our home in their yard, in their path. You'll see there's heavy equipment there. They're beginning to plow through to get the path to lay the pipeline. And over here is a yard where they're keeping heavy equipment.
Laura Gottesdiener: And the shipping container, where is that in between all this?
Jane Kendall: It's right smack in the middle. It's stopping everything. And the really great thing is, everybody in this area driving back and forth on the way to work is going to see it.
Laura Gottesdiener: What does the message on the side of this container say?
Lee Stewart: "Our lives on the line. Stop Spectra."
Activist: Here we go, guys. Here we go. There's workers here.
Jane Kendall: Ok, go.
Activist: I'm going to give you this closing.
Jane Kendall: Here we go. Ciao.
Lee Stewart: Love.
Amy Goodman: That was Lee Stewart speaking this morning before he and Jane Kendall locked themselves into the shipping container blockading Spectra Energy's work yard. The project has already faced massive resistance at other points along the route, including in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where activists from a group known as The FANG Collective have staged a series of tree-sits and protests. Spectra is currently suing three FANG members for $30,000 over a protest in which activists locked themselves to structures at a construction site, delaying work for hours. The three are heading to court this Thursday. In Peekskill, this morning's blockade is the latest in a series of escalating actions. On Saturday, 21 people were arrested after forming a human chain to block trucks from moving in or out of the construction site. Democracy Now!'s Laura Gottesdiener was there, speaking to residents, protesters risking arrest and a nuclear safety expert.
Protesters: Get up! Get down! Leave fossil fuels in the ground! Get up! Get down!
Courtney Williams: My name is Courtney Williams. I am a resident of Peekskill and I am working to stop the Algonquin pipeline expansion. I first heard about the pipeline over two years ago, when a local organization called SAPE, which is Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, had an info session at the local library. And they had been working to stop fracking and they realized that even if New York banned hydrofracking, we would still be feeling a lot of the health and safety impacts of it if we had massive fracked gas pipelines going through our communities. So that's when we first learned about the project. And my husband actually said, "I think these people are crazy or we need to move," because they're building this pipeline right next to the nuclear power plant, right next to the elementary school and 400 feet from our front door. Our home will be incinerated if this pipeline ruptures near to our house. And the school district, the great school district that we were buying to live in, now our daughter will be going to kindergarten 400 feet from the pipeline, where, you know, she and 300 other kids would be harmed if the pipeline ruptured there.
Laura Gottesdiener: How old is your daughter Irene?
Courtney Williams: My daughter is six. And my—and so she's a kindergartner there now. And my son is going to be four on Monday, actually. And he would be starting there, if we still live here.
Laura Gottesdiener: If this section becomes operational, will you stay and send your kids to this school, where there's—400 feet away, there's the possibility that there could be a pipeline explosion?
Courtney Williams: We really don't feel safe here anymore.
Protesters: We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll right over Spectra!
Jean Bergman: My name is Jean Bergman. And we're here in Peekskill to protest the Spectra pipeline. Right now we have over 20 people willing to risk arrest to try to stop this pipeline from being built. We're standing across the entrance to the pipeline work area and we're going to stay here and prevent vehicles from coming in or out as long as we can.
Protesters: We shall not be moved.
Benjamin Shepard: I'm Benjamin Shepard from Brooklyn, New York City. And we're here to ask: If all of our elected representatives are on record as being against this pipeline, if the mayor of Peekskill is on record as being against the pipeline, if the people of Peekskill are on record as being against this pipeline, who's calling the shots? The people or the corporations? And if the corporations won't get out of the way, the people have to do it, are going to have to get in their way. And that's why we're here, to get on the—stop the machinery.
Paul Blanch: My name is Paul Blanch. I'm a registered professional engineer. I've studied nuclear safety for 50 years. And I know there's a probability of an event occurring that would literally destroy the area here and impact 20 million people and cause property and infrastructure damage exceeding $8 trillion. There is no nuclear power plant that we are aware of, first of all, that's located in such a high densely populated area. There's no nuclear power plant with a gas line running 400 feet from the control room. There is no protection in the control room, should an event occur. If an event occurs, an explosion or the release of gas, even unexploded, could cause disabling the people in the control room and result in meltdown of both reactors. An explosion would engulf the Indian Point facility. And the containments wouldn't be affected, but it's very likely that we would have a release exceeding those of Chernobyl and Fukushima, because there's more radioactive material stored here than at those facilities.
Laura Gottesdiener: So you're saying if there were an explosion at Indian Point power plant, nuclear power plant, everybody in New York City would be displaced?
Paul Blanch: Well, I'm not saying everybody. It depends on which way the wind is blowing. And if it blows to New York City, there's been studies that, you know, the evacuation area could extend beyond 50 miles. And New York City downtown is only 35 miles away. And predominant winds are down the Hudson River and it could cause the relocation of people permanently.
Protesters: Get up! Get down! Leave fossil fuels in the ground! Get up! Get down!
Amy Goodman: That was nuclear power safety expert Paul Blanch speaking Saturday in Peekskill, New York, about the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The facility has long been plagued with aging infrastructure and safety concerns. On Tuesday, the environmental group Friends of the Earth filed an emergency petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission demanding one of Indian Point's reactors be kept offline and that another be shut down due to the disintegration of key bolts holding the reactor cooling system together.
Well, for more, we're joined here in New York by Nancy Vann, president of Safe Energy Rights Group and a member of Resist AIM. She's a resident of Peekskill, New York. She just left the newly launched blockade of the AIM pipeline.
Nancy, welcome to Democracy Now!
Nancy Vann: Thank you.
Amy Goodman: So, the significance of this pipeline being next to this nuclear power plant and then Friends of the Earth filing this complaint?
Nancy Vann: The pipeline is dangerous enough on its own. We anticipate that a blast radius from a rupture would be between 800 and a thousand feet. And it runs within about 105 feet of the switchyard that supplies all the power to Indian Point to keep the cores cooled. If the core power goes out, there's a backup generator and the pipeline will run 115 feet from the fuel that would fuel those backup generators. So, any rupture of this pipeline would completely obliterate really critical safety structures at Indian Point.
Juan Gonzalez: Why did public officials allow this pipeline to be built in the first place? Governor Cuomo, for instance, is known as an opponent of the Indian Point nuclear power plant and wants to close it down. Why haven't they stepped forward on this issue?
Nancy Vann: Well, Governor Cuomo actually did step forward on it. He had issued a letter and sent it to FERC, which is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little—about a month ago, saying that he wanted this pipeline construction halted until an independent risk assessment could be done. FERC, that we like to call FERCbecause of its implications—we always talk about them FERCing us—they are an industry that—they are captured by the industry. They are really a rogue agency. All of their funding comes from the fossil fuel industry. If there were no new projects, there would be no agency.
Amy Goodman: Last year, The FANG Collective—standing for Fighting Against Natural Gas—recorded a series of interviews with a whistleblower who worked as a contract safety inspector on Spectra's AIM pipeline. He was asked to describe the safety conditions at the site. His voice has been distorted.
Safety Inspector: We had an excavator that flipped over, a very heavy—I'd have to guess, but I'd be remiss to say it was easily greater than 50,000 pounds—a trackhoe, flip over on a jobsite, the arrest of it—tumbling down a field. It was arrested by falling onto the flatbed it was putting pipe on. You had the situation at Cromwell, where a crane forgets to unhook its headache ball from the front of the crane and starts to boom crane out. Well, when you do that, cable is supposed to get longer, but it didn't, so it catastrophically broke the cable. The ball hit 10-inch plate, that could have been under pressure. What if that would have been live pressurized plate, that by now had been struck by headache ball, by crane that weighs upteen tons? That could have led to a humongous environmental safety issue as well as multiple deaths. So, the bottom line is, these are all situations where I was personally confronted, from crane to the trackhoe, to the head injuries, to the minor heat exhaustion, to the so on and so forth.
Amy Goodman: The whistleblower went on to say inspectors told him about other safety violations.
Safety Inspector: Inspectors come up to me in the field and say to me, "There was a pipe buried underground that was not inspected properly." And the reason it was not excavated and inspected was that it cost too much money. The right thing for the inspector to do is to make them dig it back up. That's the right thing to do. With the pressure you receive from Spectra, you will never do that.
Amy Goodman: So, Nancy Vann, explain what this safety inspector is saying, in the last 30 seconds we have.
Nancy Vann: He is talking about the fact that new pipelines are actually failing at a much higher rate than older pipelines. They're being put in too fast. The wells are not being inspected. They're using faulty steel, using often Chinese steel that is not up to the standards that it should be. And
Amy Goodman: Our latest news is police are currently trying to cut through the shipping container that was set up today, not successful so far. What about this blockade launch that was just begun this morning? You've got 10 seconds.
Nancy Vann: Our lives really are on the line. In court, we are pleading the necessity defense, saying that we have to do this to keep a greater harm from being perpetrated on the people of New York. There are 20 million people that could be affected if something goes wrong at this pipeline next to Indian Point.
Amy Goodman: Nancy Vann, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Safe Energy Rights Group, member of Resist AIM, lives in Peekskill, New York. And that does it for the show. Special thanks to Laura Gottesdiener and Juan Carlos Dávila for that report.
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By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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