The initial project we pursued after launching the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) in 2015 was a feature titled “Dedham and Goliath.” Published in DigBoston and written by Nick Moorhead, the article was the first dive any outlet in our region took into shenanigans and protests around the Algonquin pipeline offshoot being built to carry natural gas through Dedham, Westwood, and West Roxbury. We chose to make our first impression with an article about natural gas for several reasons. Among them: to display our intent to jump on issues that are often tragically ignored and to demonstrate out of the gate that we planned to explore environmental issues that even the alleged liberals at newspapers of record are reluctant to cover.
In the time since, we have reported dozens of features and hundreds of columns, many of which hold accountable the goons who disregard our planet, from local politicians who are more inclined to let condominium developers build towers on the coastline than they are to plan for the impacts of climate change, to international behemoths that pollute with impunity. Even after all that digging, though, the bureaucratic bullies from Nick’s Dedham pipeline story — specifically, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — stand out as some of the most ethically scrambled villains of all. By favoring the interests of executives and stockholders over demands of people in communities where pipes were being placed along popular thoroughfares (one stretch runs beside an open pit rock mine that detonates heavy explosives), the regulators proved that there is virtually nothing that can stop Big Energy when there are big bucks to be made. At the same time, the activists who fought them showed that not even a torrent of seemingly insurmountable adversity — from mass arrests, to lawsuits, to officials whose allegiances are to the honchos they’re supposed to keep in check — should get in the way of standing up for public safety.
During my time as a reporter and editor in New England, I have encountered several of the activists who regularly demonstrate against Pilgrim. In 2012, organizers from an Occupy Cape Cod faction brought me to Falmouth to speak about my experience visiting protest encampments across the country, and their volunteers left a lasting impression on me. Unlike the majority of younger occupiers I had met, the mostly senior squadron on the Cape had moved beyond rhetoric and general assemblies, with people spending several hours every week helping their neighbors wrestle with unscrupulous home mortgage lenders. With many of them having bonded through the struggle against the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station over the preceding decades, they understood that it was their responsibility to help out where the government had failed.
When we first asked Miriam Wasser to consider documenting stories about nuclear protests for our BINJ oral history series, several things were different than they are today. For one, it was before an inspector from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accidentally forwarded a troubling report about the Plymouth plant to longtime crusader Diane Turco, executive director of the anti-Pilgrim group Cape Downwinders; among other damning statements, the email, sent on Dec 6, 2016, noted, “The plant seems overwhelmed by just trying to run the station,” and, “It appears that many staff across the site may not have the standards to know what ‘good’ actually is.” In the time since, as Miriam has spent innumerable hours researching old documents and interviewing people who have been vocally concerned about such risks for generations, its track record of safety problems has continued. During this year’s early January “bomb cyclone” that flooded much of coastal Massachusetts, the plant was forced to shut down after losing one of two external power sources.
Though the NRC appears to be an even bigger joke under President Donald Trump than it was under his negligent predecessors, the intention of this work is not to frighten readers. Rather it is to further alert the public to the bankrupt nature of what passes for real oversight in the United States, even when the lives of millions are potentially in danger. On the strength of Miriam’s hard work and expertise, and of participants who lent their memories and photos to the effort, we hope this time capsule preserves the people’s history and informs this and other movements moving forward. As is explained in detail in this volume, if not for the actions of a dedicated core activist crew on the Cape over a 50-year span, there could be two or three reactors on the bay that may have operated long after the planned closing for next year.
On that note… Pilgrim may be slated to shut down in 2019, but as the struggle chugs along for those who will still live in close proximity to possible contamination from its remnants, there’s no doubt that the forces who have stood up for their health and safety for the past half-century will keep fighting. This is their story.
Chris Faraone, BINJ Editorial Director
The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism produces bold reporting on issues related to social justice, and cultivates writers and multimedia producers to assist in that role. BINJ supports independent publications in various reportorial and organizational capacities, collaborates with partners on sustainable journalism and civic engagement initiatives, and aims to empower promising muckrakers with training and professional compensation.