By REGINA LONCAREVIC
On Saturday, Aug. 29, over 100 empty shoes were placed in front of the state capitol in Hartford as part of a global day of climate shoe actions. The shoes represented the silent protest of Connecticut residents against the invisible violence of climate injustice and environmental racism.
Organized by 350 Connecticut, the CT chapter of the Sierra Club, the CT Climate Crisis Mobilization (C3M), and Extinction Rebellion, this action was also meant to build energy around the Oct. 1 public forum on the proposed NTE fracked-gas power plant in Killingly, Conn.
This shoe action follows a car caravan protest and zoom rally opposing the Killingly power plant. At the zoom rally, Windham/Willimantic NAACP President Leah Ralls highlighted the fact that emissions from the power plant would travel downwind into Windham’s Black communities, adding to the trend of environmental hazards disproportionately harming communities of color. In fact, a 2020 study released by the Connecticut Health Foundation found that Black children and teenagers are nearly five and a half times more likely than whites to go to the emergency room because of asthma. Their Hispanic peers were found to be four and a half times more likely.
Looking to the mass movement in support of Black lives, it’s important we remember how invisible violence is also hurting these over-policed neighborhoods. Environmental pollution disproportionately harms poor communities, especially communities of color. This disparity is only going to worsen as the effects of climate change become more acute.
Fracked gas (or natural gas) is often seen as a “green” alternative to other fossil fuels like coal, but fracked gas is also a fossil fuel. Why is it seen as cleaner? When burned under optimal conditions, natural gas produces around 50-60% less CO2 than burning coal does. While CO2 is the greenhouse gas most commonly associated with climate change, it’s not the most potent one. CH4, or methane, is around 25 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Methane is the largest component of natural gas, and like it or not, methane gas leaks are just part of the territory when working with natural gas.
In fact, a 2018 study published in Science found that U.S. oil and gas operations are leaking 60 percent more methane than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had anticipated based on previous risk calculations. That’s around 13 million tons more each year.
Methane leaks are not just bad for climate change, they’re immediately dangerous. Methane leaks can catch fire and explode. In 2010, there was an explosion in a Connecticut power plant that can most likely be attributed to a natural gas leak. This was in Middletown, Conn. The plant explosion killed six workers, and residents living at least 10 miles away from the plant reported feeling “earthquake-like tremors.” In 2014, a gas pipe explosion in East Harlem, N.Y., killed eight people and displaced over 100 families. A similar gas pipeline explosion killed two people in the East Village in 2015.
While NTE’s website seems to almost imply that the proposed plant is on the Algonquin pipeline, this would not be so simple as plugging a duct in. The plant would require construction of a 2.4-mile-long pipeline from Pomfret to Killingly to connect it to the Algonquin mainline. This pipeline would go through areas of protected land and under the Quinebaug River. Speaking of the Quinebaug River, on April 27, the Connecticut Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) approved the proposed Killingly gas plant to discharge 90,000 gallons of wastewater per day into it.
Further, the “benefits” of natural gas air pollution are typically being compared to a coal power plant of comparable size; however, there is no existing power plant at this location. While coal power plants produce more air pollutants, it’s not as if natural gas plants cannot impact air quality—natural gas is still a fossil fuel after all. Burning natural gas produces nitrogen oxides (NOx), a precursor for smog and acid rain.
Private energy companies benefit from this pollution, and with both Democrats and Republicans bowing to the interests of private energy monopolies, the way forward is clear—workers need to organize independently of these parties. The energy industry ought to be nationalized so that we can work towards real and equitable solutions to climate change.
Coalitions like C3M show a promising start to a mass movement against climate injustice in Connecticut, and with well over 100 shoes collected for the action in just a week, it’s clear to see the masses are ready for this fight—whether or not Democrats are willing to take the threat of climate change seriously.
All shoes used in the action that the owner did not want returned were donated or recycled.