With the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) poised to make a decision later this week on whether or not to approve Eversource’s highly controversial plan to build a new substation in East Boston at the City Yards in East Eagle Square, 16 elected officials wrote a letter this week to Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides asking her to intervene and postpone the meeting.
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren; U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Joseph P. Kennedy, III and Katherine Clark; State Senators Joseph A. Boncore, Sal N. DiDomenico and Jamie B. Eldridge; State Reps. Adrian C. Madaro, Daniel J. Ryan, Liz Miranda and Michelle DuBois; as well as Boston City Councilors Lydia Edwards, Michelle Wu, Julia Mejia and Annissa Essaibi-George.
“We write to request that the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) postpone the upcoming virtual public hearings on the proposed Eversource electrical substation in East Boston and reopen the determination of need for the project,” read the letter. “We have serious concerns about the accessibility of these hearings — currently scheduled for December 16-17, 2020 — to members of the affected community, which the COVID-19 pandemic has hit especially hard.”
The elected officials argue that with Eastie experiencing one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the state the high positivity rate has led to stark economic fallout, including unemployment, food insecurity, and homelessness and holding such an important meeting and vote is unfair–given Eastie’s steadfast opposition to the proposal over the years.
“At a time when the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts is sharply rising and so many community residents must focus on maintaining their own and others’ physical and economic well being, it is unfair to ask them to engage — virtually— on a highly technical project,” said the letter.
The letter also questioned the need to further impact a neighborhood that is already an environmental justice community.
“Furthermore, the proposed site of the new substation, on the banks of Chelsea Creek, is already an area of industry overuse,” stated in the letter. “ If approved, the Eversource electrical substation would have decades-long effects on an extremely vulnerable and disproportionately impacted population. Residents in and around this congested area must be given the opportunity for meaningful involvement, which the currently scheduled meetings do not provide. We urge the EFSB to require the proponent to release its own outdated and proprietary data upon which the justification for this electrical substation is based. It is the EFSB’s mission to ensure that proposed projects provide a reliable energy supply, with a minimum impact on the environment, at the lowest possible cost. To best assess whether the determination of public need should be reconsidered, we believe that the only responsible and fair course of action is to provide the most up to date and accurate data in a way that is transparent to the affected public. The siting of any new significant energy project requires the full and informed input of the surrounding public, especially in this instance as this planned industrial infrastructure is in an already disproportionately overburdened Environmental Justice community.”
Over the years, community members and advocates have highlighted concerns about the EFSB’s inadequate language access since the project’s inception.
“There are multiple Title VI Civil Rights complaints filed with federal agencies, which have yet to render a decision,” stated in the letter. “Steamrolling ahead despite these concerns shows an utter disregard for those with limited English proficiency — who comprise a high percentage of East Boston residents and who may be excluded from this critical and complex process.”
To ensure that civil rights are upheld and the full and meaningful engagement of all persons is protected, the elected officials argue the EFSB must comply with any directives resulting from those complaints before it holds any public hearings.
“This neighborhood of East Boston is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse communities in Massachusetts,” stated in the letter. “For far too long, black, brown, and immigrant communities have been excluded from the decision-making processes that directly affect their quality of life. We must address the inequities that intersect race, class, and public health, and that begins with ensuring that the residents of East Boston have a full say in the evolution of their neighborhood.”
Madaro, who has helped lead the charge against the proposed substation said he was happy to have the support of so many state, city, and federal colleagues in opposing the proposed substation.
“East Boston is an Environmental Justice community,” said Madaro. “Our neighbors’ voices deserve to be heard. Holding this hearing during the COVID emergency is unacceptable. Thank you to GreenRoots and all the East Boston community activists who have led the way in expressing our neighborhood’s opposition to this project. Your efforts have been essential in making East Boston heard.”