Despite its leadership on climate change, New England still permits natural gas and coal to be used and burned in its borders, which has riled Worcester residents into action.
In December alone, Worcester, Mass., residents stopped two coal trains, delaying them from reaching a New Hampshire power plant, and protested against a gas compressor station.
On Dec. 28, climate activists blocked a train carrying coal in the Green Island neighborhood in Worcester. According to organizers, 10 were taken into custody by the Worcester Police Department for disturbing the peace.
The local action was organized by the Climate Disobedience Center as part of the No Coal, No Gas campaign. The coal train was on its way to the Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H., one of the largest of three coal-burning plants in New England.
Activists were ready for the train to leave Worcester at 7 p.m., and fully stopped the train for a half-hour at 7:20.
Ari Nicholson, 22, a climate activist who was present at a similar coal stopping on Dec. 7, said they do this because, “we should not be burning coal in 2019.”
The Merrimack Station receives the coal it burns from outside the state, and, according to Nicholson, “Worcester is in a key position on the route the coal train makes to the plant.”
“Worcester locals are part of the fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Emma Schoenberg, 27, an organizer with the Climate Disobedience Center. “Rate payers, those connected to the electric grid around New England, are on the hook for keeping this coal plant alive through forward capacity payments, which pay for fossil fuels that haven’t been burned yet.”
Saturday’s coal train stopping is just one of various Worcester-based actions for regional climate causes going on this winter season.
A similar action occurred Dec. 7, which was largely attended by activists from Clark Climate Justice, a student group of climate activists from Clark University. Activists were ready from 7 a.m. that day to stop the coal train, which arrived late in the evening. The students were able to stop the coal train in its tracks for four hours, until railroad police issued a warning.
“Our goal was to delay the train long enough so people coming from all different corners of New England had enough time to get in place” to protest farther down the track, said Nicholson, who flagged the train to a halt.
Organizers expect several more coal trains to travel via Worcester.
“We have to ask ourselves,” said Nicholson, “if fossil fuel infrastructure is rolling through our town, what are we going to do? I’m going to be on the tracks.”
Shifting gears away from coal and toward gas, Worcester moms from Mothers Out Front protested the proposed Weymouth Compressor Station, proposed to be built in North Weymouth, Mass. On Dec. 10, members from the Mothers Out Front Worcester team, 350 Central Mass, Renewable Energy Worcester protested outside City Councilor Donna Colorio’s fundraiser at the El Basha Restaurant. Although Councilor Colorio has nothing to do with the controversial compressor station, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito was believed to be in attendance. Protesters hoped to target Lt. Gov. Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker for their lack of action on the Weymouth Compressor Station.
The proposed 7,700-horsepower compressor station is part of the energy company Enbridge’s massive Atlantic Bridge Project, which brings natural gas to New England and Canada.
Worcester protesters held signs reading “No Weymouth Compressor” and “Solidarity with FRRACS” in the cold rain for one hour in protest. FRACCS (Fore River Residents Against Compressor Station) is leading the statewide opposition to the compressor station. Just days before the Worcester protest, four FRRACS members were arrested protesting the compressor station.
“The most important thing for us is that when we post the video and images on Twitter,” said Etel Haxhiaj, 39, an organizer for Mothers Out Front, “the folks who had been arrested a few days before were really touched to see that people in Worcester were showing solidarity.”
Gov. Baker’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
For the Worcester protesters, the fight is part of a bigger movement for a livable climate.
“Our city just declared a climate emergency,” said Haxhiaj, referring to the Climate Emergency Declaration passed unanimously by City Council on Sept. 17, “which means that we need to do anything and everything possible to convince our residents and leaders that any extension of this fossil fuel infrastructure goes against everything we stand for.”
On Dec. 12, the two Worcester groups that organized both actions came together in a direct action training to teach interested residents how to end coal transport through Worcester. Organized by Clark Climate Justice and 350 Central Mass, many Worcester residents, including Haxhiaj from Mothers Out Front, gathered in a classroom of Clark University to learn about how coal train blockades are important in the greater fight against climate change.
“There’s a lot of organizing right now in Worcester,” said Nicholson.
This winter, the coal trains will keep on coming and the Weymouth Compressor Station will likely begin construction.
“If you are serious about stopping climate change and are willing to take a risk,” Nicholson went on, “now is a great time to be doing climate action in Massachusetts because you have multiple opportunities to get involved in stopping fossil fuel infrastructure.”