SOMERSET — Amid a heat wave scorching Massachusetts and breaking records in much of Europe, President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced forthcoming executive actions and a $2.3 billion infrastructure investment to tackle climate change, stating it’s “code red for humanity.”
Biden, joined by federal elected officials, stood at the site of the former coal-fired Brayton Point power plant and its empty metal structures, which ceased operations in 2017. The site is set to become a subsea cable plant and grid connection point for the state’s upcoming offshore wind projects.
“For over 50 years, this plant supported this region’s economy through … the electricity they supply, the good jobs they provided, the local taxes they paid, but this plant like many others around the country had another legacy,” Biden said. “One of toxins, smog, greenhouse gas emissions, the kind of pollution that contributed to the climate emergency we now face today.”
Biden said shuttered fossil fuel plants are becoming the sites for clean energy construction and technologies, adding Brayton Point is on the frontier of clean energy.
The symbolism of the Somerset site as a shift toward renewable energy has been used by other elected officials, like U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, who, standing before the Port of New Bedford last year, said the city would reclaim the title of being the city that lit the world — this time with renewable wind energy instead of whale oil.
Biden said he directed his administration to streamline the federal permitting process for offshore wind farms and “clear every federal hurdle” so that the projects can get online right away.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees and regulates this development, has also discussed streamlining the process after the first projects, such as Vineyard Wind, got final approval.
As the process speeds up following a slow down during the Trump administration, fishermen and fishing industry representatives have expressed concern that not enough is being done to look into the potential negative impacts the wind farms might have on the fishing industry.
Several other areas for wind development were auctioned off this year in an area called the New York Bight, which has concerned scallopers and New Bedford officials.
All this development is part of the Biden administration’s goal, announced in 2021, of deploying 30 gigawatts — or 30,000 megawatts — of offshore wind power by 2030.
The Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind projects, which will use the Port of New Bedford as a staging site for the turbine parts, are collectively 1,600 megawatts. The state in late 2021 subsequently selected new project bids for Commonwealth Wind and Mayflower Wind that brought Massachusetts to 3,200 megawatts contracted for offshore wind energy.
Mayflower Wind is slated to use the Brayton Point site as the landing point connecting offshore power from the undersea cables to the grid.
“Our delivery of clean offshore wind power to this former coal plant is the start of a revolution both locally and nationally to create thousands of new jobs, develop a whole new industry and create the radical change we need to meet our climate goals,” said Mayflower Wind CEO Michael Brown in a statement.
Biden on Wednesday also announced federal funding that can be used for air conditioning and public cooling centers to help communities get through extreme heat events, the start of wind power development in the Gulf of Mexico and a $2.3 billion investment to FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program to build infrastructure that can better withstand extreme weather events and natural disasters.
His announcement comes after U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he would not support a package that included funding for climate or energy programs, effectively stopping its passage. The New York Times reported it would have been the largest single federal investment in U.S. history toward addressing climate change.
Biden said in the absence of Congressional action, he would use his executive powers and issue orders and proclamations in the coming days and weeks.
“As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that’s what climate change is about. It is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger,” he said.
Hours before the president’s arrival, some supporters and critics stood along the road to the closed power plant, with some driving their cars all the way down to snap photos and wait in their cars before law enforcement told them to leave.
Cousins Anastasia Monte and Skylar Monte, of Fall River and Somerset, respectively, set up at the start of Brayton Point Road to draw a message for Biden in chalk: “Welcome Biden Help Us Help Clean The Earth.”
Anastasia Monte, 21, who is studying biology in college, said she wanted to show her support for Biden, noting climate change is a big issue and places that are not usually as hot are hitting record temperatures this summer.
Courtney Monte, 35, said she saw people being negative about Biden’s visit and said while people can take issue with him as a person, they need to be positive about what he’s trying to do to help the planet.
“If [Earth] is not healthy, civilization will eventually not continue,” Monte, Skylar’s mother, said.
A few paces down the road stood protesters with signs against Biden, including one by Keith McElroy of Fall River, which said the “New Green Deal is the New Green Steal” and “2024 Trump.”
McElroy, who said he works in New Bedford at an ice processing facility, said Biden is not for helping America and “wants to build windmills for what?”
Down the road, Christopher Jenson, who was carrying Trump and “Impeach Biden” flags, said he supports offshore wind if it is done right (meaning it is placed in the right areas and doesn’t kill wildlife), but is not concerned about climate change and believes the climate has naturally ebbed and flowed over the years.
He said he did not support the closure of the Brayton Point power plant, stating it was “clean coal.”
In attendance were U.S. Reps. Bill Keating and Jake Auchinloss; U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey; and John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate since 2021.
Per city spokesperson Mike Lawrence, the White House reached out with an invitation for Mayor Jon Mitchell, who has made offshore wind a focal point of his work, but he was unable to attend due to a leadership program he is participating in with other mayors across the country.
“President Biden’s efforts have been instrumental in kickstarting the offshore wind industry in the United States,” Mitchell said in a statement to The Light. “Greater New Bedford and the entire Eastern Seaboard will benefit from his leadership for generations to come.”
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at email@example.com.
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