No Shortcuts: Energy Siting Board Says Proposed Port of Providence LPG Expansion Requires Full Review
April 21, 2022
WARWICK, R.I. — State energy officials ruled April 21 that Sea 3 Providence LLC’s proposed liquid propane gas (LPG) expansion at the Port of Providence must undergo a full review by the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB).
The company is seeking to build six additional 90,000-gallon propane storage tanks on Fields Point Drive and connect its port property to existing rail lines for transport. The EFSB said Sea 3 did not meet the burden of proof to avoid going through the usual approval process.
“This decision is not a decision to deny them a license; it’s only a decision to require them more inquiry,” EFSB chairman Ronald Gerwatowksi said.
Board members said the addition of rail constituted a major alteration to the facility and thus subject to EFSB approval. The site’s current operations — receiving LPG deliveries by ship — have been grandfathered into existing laws. Rail expansion would not be similarly grandfathered in, according to the three-person board, due to the delivery mechanism being entirely different.
The board also rejected the argument by Sea 3 that greenhouse gas emission reduction concerns, as laid out by the Act on Climate law, are not relevant to the project. Board member Meredith Brady said transportation projects are subject to the provisions in last year’s legislation and to other already-existing statutes.
“It’s only fair to say it would apply in this case as well,” Brady said.
The proposed LPG expansion now has to go through a full EFSB review if Sea 3 wants to move forward with the project. Board members also indicated project approval could result in several conditions to reduce safety risks.
“I believe we need to hold the petitioner to a higher standard for public safety,” Gerwatowski said.
The decision represents a big victory for environmental groups and residents of South Providence and Washington Park. The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the city of Providence and the Rhode Island attorney general’s office argued against the proposed expansion during almost a year of hearings.
“Today’s decision from the RI Energy Facility Sitting Board is a victory for the people of Ward 10, and the community of South Providence,” City Council President Pro Tempore Pedro Espinal wrote in a statement released shortly after the EFSB hearing ended. “The proposed expansion clearly poses a substantial risk both to the environment, and public safety in general.”
Project opponents have been consistently saying they believed the proposed expansion constituted a major alteration to an existing energy facility and poses significant public-safety and climate-emission impacts.
“Rhode Island has a climate law that demands cuts to polluting emissions, and this irresponsible expansion would absolutely lead to more emissions,” CLF attorney James Crowley said. “The board made the right call in requiring a full review and safeguarding our health and future in the face of the climate crisis.”
Sea 3 petitioned the EFSB for a declaratory judgment in March of last year, arguing the proposed expansion did not constitute a major alteration to its existing energy facility and did not pose significant impacts to the environment, public health or safety to nearby residents. Hearings began in July before running into COVID and scheduling complications that resulted in hearings not resuming until January.
“My Office, alongside community stakeholders, intervened in this matter because we believe that energy facility expansions like this project should be subject to full and comprehensive regulatory oversight given the direct impacts they have on our environment, health, and public safety,” Attorney General Peter Neronha wrote in an April 21 statement. “There should be no room for regulatory shortcuts, and I am grateful that the EFSB saw things the same way.”
Nick Hemond, Sea 3’s legal representation during the hearing process, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.