In one of several local protests against Spectra Energy’s expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline, Bernardo McLaughlin, a member of Capitalism vs. The Climate, locked himself to a piece of construction equipment in Chaplin, Connecticut, disrupting work on the site for three hours.
The expansion is part of Spectra Energy’s $3 billion Access Northeast project, which will enable the Algonquin Pipeline to deliver one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from fracking in Pennsylvania throughout the East Coast and to export terminals proposed in Canada.
McLaughlin is the 67th protester to be arrested for disrupting work on the 1,129 mile long pipeline, which runs through New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. He has been charged with criminal mischief, criminal trespassing and interfering with an officer for chaining his arms around Spectra Energy equipment using a “black bear” consisting of PVC piping, chicken wire, tar and rocks that can only be released from the inside.
A statement by Capitalism vs. The Climate said the protest was part of #FLOODtheSYSTEM, a national movement to resist racism, colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy through grassroots efforts.
"I placed my body here because we're out of options,” McLaughlin said in the statement. “The political class has decided they can survive climate catastrophe and written the rest of us off as acceptable losses. Nobody is coming to save us. Our only hope is organized grassroots power and direct action."
Nine members of Capitalism vs. the Climate and 350 Connecticut, regional advocacy groups focused on advancing renewable energy, arrived at the Algonquin Gas Transmission Company site on Tower Hill Road in Chaplin around 5 a.m. where they picketed until McLaughlin was removed from the property by police at 8:10 a.m. Police on the scene requested I.D. from everyone present but said the other protesters were within their rights as long as they did not obstruct traffic.
Reneé Hamel, a University of Connecticut graduate student studying social work and public health, said the Chaplin protest in addition to blockades in Willimantic and Cromwell was aimed at stopping the expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline. She said despite being marketed as alternative energy, natural gas is actually worse for the environment than coal. According to the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change, burning methane based natural gas traps 34 times more heat over 100 years than the CO2 produced by oil and coal burning power plants.
“I don’t think our government is working for us right now so we need to do what we can to protect our own interest,” Hamel said. “I can no longer stand by and allow the greed and the power of the fossil fuel industry to affect our health and our communities.”
The Federal Regulatory Commission’s final environmental impact statement found that the Algonquin Pipeline expansion will go through Mansfield Hollow State Park, 12 streams and two wetlands inhabited by state-listed species. Kevin Sullivan, a UConn alumni, said he joined the Chaplin protest to raise awareness and hit Spectra Energy where it counts.
“I was just moved by the impact that fracking gas can have on the environment,” Sullivan said. “This is great, the only thing they care about is money and we’re costing them a lot of money.”
According to RI Future, Spectra Energy is seeking $30,000 in restitutions for contractor fees from three protesters who disrupted pipeline expansion by chaining themselves to a Burrillville, Rhode Island construction site in Sept. Fighting Against Natural Gas, also known as FANG, has created a PayPal donations page to assist McLaughlin with any upcoming legal fees.
Ben Martin, a 350 Connecticut organizer, said McLaughlin’s willingness to sacrifice his own freedom sends a powerful message about the importance of stopping the government subsidized use of fossil fuels like natural gas.
“We don’t need to burn stuff anymore to create energy, we have the technology now,” Martin said. “We are supporting a transition to 100 percent renewable energy for Connecticut and the rest of America.”
Martin said he agrees with Capitalism vs. The Climate’s message about the destructive influence of capitalist economics on the environment because the system tends to overlook the worth of natural capital.
“It’s hard to put the monetary value on a meter of air or water and if we don’t have those we don’t live,” Martin said.
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.