Do me a favor and take about 7 minutes to watch author Kimberly Jones’ off-the-cuff “rant” (her words) about how rioting and looting fit within the larger narrative of the economic oppression of Black people in America. I’ve never heard the long, shameful, and deadly history of white supremacy in America summed up any better or more succinctly than Jones does here. The Monopoly analogy in particular is fantastic.
When they say “Why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood?” It’s not ours! We don’t own anything! We don’t own anything! Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night: There’s a social contract that we all have — that if you steal or if I steal, then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us! So the social contract is broken. And if the social contract is broken, why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fucking Football Hall of Fame, about burning the fucking Target? You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and didn’t give a fuck! You broke the contract when for 400 years we played your game and built your wealth!
These orders can feed a small group, and even provide some leftovers for later
With Washington’s stay at home order in place, many are stocking up on supplies. But grocery stores aren’t the only option to buy in bulk. Those looking for a night off from cooking might want to seek out some of these takeout and delivery family meal deal options, from bowls of pho packaged with ube cheesecake to Middle Eastern feasts with mezze and fattoush salad to smoked meats by the pound, and more.
“There has been an outcry from residents who want a way to support Ballard businesses during this crisis,” Ballard Alliance Executive Director Mike Stewart said.
“The Ballard Marketplace is a virtual shopping experience designed to support our downtown Ballard businesses and adapt to the new economic environment we’ve all been thrust into. The Support Local – Ballard Marketplace provides Ballard businesses with a new, or additional method, to generate online sales and gives shoppers a way to visit and support all their favorite Ballard shops and restaurants during this challenging time.”
The marketplace sells a bit of everything: t-shirts from Monster, boots from re-Soul, and even cheese from Scandinavian Specialties.
“The goal of the Support Local – Ballard Marketplace is to offer neighborhood businesses and shoppers a place to connect and support one another – ensuring the vibrancy of community,” DEI Creative Principal Sara Green said. Online marketplaces could be developed for other areas, Green said, in order to help business districts across the city.
On a balmy day this past May, I sat on a white, metal park bench outside of Plaza de Recreo Guanina, a small community meeting space consisting of a few fenced-off trees and a lot of concrete in Miramar, a neighborhood in the southeast Puerto Rican city of Guayama. Just outside the square, a few palm trees swayed in a breeze tinged with just the slightest scent of rotten eggs. A run-down green truck pulled up nearby, and two locals-turned-activists — Aldwin Colón Burgos and Erasmo Cruz Vega — came out to greet me. Upon shaking hands with Cruz Vega — a spectacled man in his early 70s who has called the community home for nearly 60 years — he handed me a white surgical mask. “You’re going to need it,” he said in Spanish.
We piled into the truck and Colón Burgos, a man in his mid-40s clad in t-shirt and jeans, expertly navigated us down a neglected series of public roads. I took Cruz Vega’s advice and kept the mask clamped tightly over my nose and mouth. Less than ten minutes later, we turned onto a street bordering a high chain-link fence. On the other side towered the Applied Energy Systems solid-fueled power plant, Puerto Rico’s only coal-burning facility.
As soon as we pulled up, what seemed to be security personnel appeared on the other side of the fence, partially blocking our view. But they couldn’t cover the 120-foot-tall mountain of coal ash — a heavy metal-laden byproduct of the coal burning process. Since the plant opened in 2002, it has produced around 400,000 tons of it per year, which workers have dumped in open-air pits. With nothing to protect the soil and aquifers from potential contamination, each gust of wind is free to carry coal ash particles westward, past the road where we were parked and into Miramar.
Colón Burgos referred to the ash pile as “our Mount Vesuvius.” It only took a few minutes of sitting there staring at it before my eyes were watering and my sinuses began to burn.
While the Applied Energy Systems plant hasn’t buried Guayama, communities in the town and elsewhere in the territory have had a hard time getting authorities to heed their coal ash complaints. The Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board allowed the company, from 2004 to 2011, to cart over 2 million tons of the toxic ash all over the island and dump it in at least 12 municipalities without structural safeguards. Another 1.1 million tons of ash are unaccounted for, widely assumed to have been deposited in unknown parts of the island. And the coal ash is not limited to the Island of Enchantment: In May, AES announced that ash from Guayama’s coal plant would be transported to Osceola County in central Florida — stalking transplants to the U.S.’s second fastest-growing Puerto Rican community.
Despite the fact that coal is not present naturally in Puerto Rico, coal power from the 520-megawatt AES plant provides a significant amount of the electricity consumed by the island’s energy grid, about 15 percent. In fact, most of the electricity in Puerto Rico, close to 98 percent, comes from burning fossil fuels.
But that could soon change, hastened in part by the devastation the island suffered due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. (The latter storm hit Puerto Rico two years ago this week.)
Puerto Rico passed a bill this spring designed to transform its economy by transitioning to renewable energy in an attempt to make its energy grid more resilient. The territory’s former governor, Ricardo Roselló, signed the clean energy legislation in April. Marketed by some as a Green New Deal-style transition for the island, the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act would see Puerto Rico running exclusively on renewable sources by 2050. The bill specifically bans coal plants like AES starting in 2028.
Despite the bill’s passage, according to many locals, officials are struggling to provide a roadmap forward. Roselló resigned amid a corruption scandal over the summer, and the Puerto Rican government essentially played a game of musical chairs where not one, not two, but three governors were all sworn in to lead the territory in less than a week. Wanda Vazquez, the island’s former justice secretary and current governor, has not made a public statement about how she’ll implement the legislation.
A near-total transformation of its current energy mix is a tall order for a territory dealing with instability in its local government, as well as a deeply debt-ridden public utility — Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) recently declared bankruptcy. While the political will might be lacking, and a private takeover over of PREPA is in the offing, environmental advocates on the island are determined to realize the promise of the landmark legislation and allow the island to become self-sufficient — at least when it comes to the energy its people need to survive.
Despite being a significant energy source for the island, the AES coal plant is an unwelcome neighbor for many Guayama residents. Colón Burgos said ash from the plant comes through the cracks of windows in his home, covering furniture, clothing, and bedspreads. And it hasn’t just made its way into houses: An Environmental Protection Agency study, paid for by AES, found that the ash mountain next to the plant is leaching large quantities of chemicals — traces of arsenic, chromium, selenium, and molybdenum — into the island’s groundwater.
The impact of this contamination is most acute for those who live closest to the plant. According to a survey by the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Public Health, almost one in ten people in Miramar have been diagnosed with cancer. Colón Burgos himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer in his mid-30s — a condition he thinks he could have avoided if the coal plant had not moved to town in 2004. (His doctors told him they were used to seeing the disease in people in their 60s and 70s.) From the time the plant opened through 2016, the rate of deaths attributable to cancer in Guayama outpaced the island as a whole by 5 percent, according to the Registro Central de Cáncer de Puerto Rico, guaranteeing the industrial city a spot among the top ten cancer-laden municipalities on the island.
One in four Guayamans have a respiratory disease, and more than half have heart disease. Rates of miscarriages in the region have spiked in recent years. Colón Burgos’ two daughters attend the public school right next to the plant. (“Coal ash even lands in the school’s dining hall, where they’re preparing their food,” he told me,) In 2016, the older one had to have surgery for abnormally large abscesses on her skin. She was 14 years old at the time.
In July of 2017, before the hurricanes lashed the territory, the Puerto Rican legislature approved a law that prohibits the disposal of coal ash on the island. Coal plant operators, meaning AES, would have 180 days from the day of production to remove the ash — which could be done by converting it to cement, concrete, or another commercially beneficial use. But many environmental advocates, like Timmy Boyle, spokesperson of Alianza Comunitaria Ambiental del Sureste — loosely translated to Southeastern Environmental Community Alliance — think the law is ineffective since AES does not consider its coal combustion residuals to be coal ash. Rather, according to the company, it’s a mix of ash and water called Agremax that can be used in construction. This classification has resulted in the continued storage of thousands of tons of coal ash on the island.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria aggravated the public-health crisis by churning up contaminants in September of that year. The Puerto Rican government fined AES twice for failing to comply with two orders to cover the mountain of ash before the powerful storms passed. The company refused to pay — and the mountain of ashes is still uncovered. Applied Energy Systems declined requests to comment for this story.
Federal regulations exist to protect communities like Guayama. The EPA finalized a rule in 2015 that requires power plants take commonsense precautions when disposing of coal waste. But the agency under Trump, led by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has given AES a free pass on cleaning up its mess. The ash impoundments were on a deadline to close in April, but Wheeler granted the company an 18-month extension, local media outlet Centro de Periodismo Investigativo reported, while simultaneously rolling back pollution standards — meaning the mountains could remain exposed indefinitely, even after the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act sunsets the Guayama plant in less than a decade.
When that happens, there are real questions as to whether renewable capacity will be able to take over for the coal plant. Currently, renewable sources make up less than three percent of the island’s energy mix. On my drive from Miramar to the coal plant in Guayama, I passed by Puerto Rico’s largest renewable facility in Santa Isabel, a 101.1-megawatt wind farm — enough to power roughly 40,000 homes — built in 2012 by San Francisco-based Pattern Energy. And the coal plant itself was right next to a field of solar panels, installed by AES, which locals like Colón Burgos dismiss as a PR move. “It’s all about image,” he said.
Aside from these toe-dips into renewable energy, the almost inevitable privatization of the PREPA could complicate any transition away from fossil fuels. The government-owned utility declared bankruptcy in 2017 after decades of mismanagement that resulted in it racking up several billion dollars in debt.
But the embattled utility claims to still have big plans: According to PREPA spokesperson Luis Figueroa Báez, the authority has prepared a detailed proposal to rebuild its power grid into a more resilient system. It includes hardening transmission towers and lines (burying some underground) and splitting the system into mini-grids, each with its own power generation. As part of the effort, he said, PREPA will greatly boost the amount of power generated by renewable energy.
But the privatization of PREPA and the cost required to rebuild its grid could result in unreasonably high electricity bills, with the poorest families bearing most of the financial burden. Add to that the fact that many Puerto Ricans still don’t trust the utility. That’s led some on the island to suggest eschewing PREPA altogether. These energy democracy advocates believe that the best way to shift the territory’s entire energy system to renewable sources might be for islanders to take matters into their own hands.
Conversations about renewable energy aren’t new for the island. Long-standing institutions have been advocating for solar power for years, such as Casa Pueblo.
Tucked down a street in the mountainous central Puerto Rican municipality of Adjuntas is the small, pink, light-filled building that’s home to Casa Pueblo. Solar panels line the cheerful building’s roof, the lifeline of an organization devoted to educating the public on eco-friendly technology.
The building is nothing short of TARDIS-like (“It’s bigger on the inside,” as they say on the British TV show Doctor Who). Local offerings are sold off to the right of the entrance, including the Madre Isla Coffee the organization has produced since 1989 and that sustains it financially. Further along, a solar-powered fridge stands against the right side of the room; off to the left, a large coffee grinder. There’s more outside, too: A pathway leads to a bright blue building bordering a greenhouse and butterfly garden, as well as Casa Pueblo’s very own radio station, Radio Casa Pueblo 1020. And just outside of the house is a small cinema, filled with seats and a large screen.
Back inside the house, Arturo Massol-Deyá, Casa Pueblo’s assistant executive director, pointed to a picture on the wall. Dating back several decades, it shows a lone protester standing in opposition to an open-pit mining effort. “This all started with one person showing up at the main square to protest open-pit mining,” Massol-Deyá, a biologist by training, told me. He then gestured at another picture on the wall, this one filled with seemingly thousands of people, stretching beyond the frame. “And this is 15 years after, the same square,” he said.
Founded 39 years ago by Arturo’s father, Alexis Massol-González, Casa Pueblo has grown and evolved over the decades, shifting from anti-mining activism to wide-scale renewable efforts. It has run on solar since 1999.
Buoyed by renewable energy after Hurricane Maria, the organization was an energy oasis for Puerto Ricans who suddenly found themselves without power. Casa Pueblo distributed more than 14,000 solar lamps, solar refrigerators, and fully-charged machines for respiratory therapy and dialysis.
Prior to the storm, Casa Pueblo was a small advocacy organization fighting against fossil fuels and for renewable energy — just as it had been against mining. That’s no longer the case. According to Massol-Deyá’s mother, Hurricane Maria ramped up the demand for renewable energy. “There was very little interest before,” she told me in Spanish. “There’s urgency now.”
That new imperative has helped Casa Pueblo spread the renewable energy gospel locally: So far, the organization has installed solar panels on at least two hardware stores and a small barber shop, set up dozens of solar-powered refrigerators around the town, and helped power one of Puerto Rico’s first fully solar-powered restaurants just down the street. It also hopes to equip local grocery stores with solar power as well.
“We’re building something different,” Massol-Deyá told me in Spanish. “We’re using our community’s intelligence to manage our reality.”
While Massol-Deyá speaks in grand terms about his organization’s ambitions to bring solar to Adjuntas and beyond, he said he feels skepticism about the former governor’s intentions — “He’s all words,” he told me — at pushing for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
And now that Vazquez is at the helm, Roselló’s green bill seems all the more uncertain. The new governor has already suspended a pending $450,000 contract that is part of the program to rebuild and strengthen the island’s power grid. “There is no room in this administration for unreasonable expenses,” she said.
That’s why, Massol-Deyá argues, Puerto Ricans should follow Casa Pueblo’s lead and take matters into their own hands — what he calls an “energy insurrection.”
In April, hundreds gathered in front of the Casa Pueblo headquarters to participate in the “Marcha del Sol,” or Sun March, calling for an uprising to reshape the island’s energy mix. Massol-Deyá isn’t afraid of going against the powers that be, pointing to a picture of himself and a few members of Casa Pueblo getting arrested in Washington, D.C., in 2011 while protesting a natural gas pipeline. “If we have to get confrontational,” he said, “we’ll do it.”
That sense of determination is shared by Aldwin Colón Burgos and Erasmo Cruz Vega, the activists from Guayama. After our trip to see the AES coal plant and its coal-ash mountain, Colón Burgos parked the car near the beach next to the plant. At first glance, we were looking at paradise, a former image of Puerto Rico that for a moment seemed alive and well. But when I looked closer, I could see the mammoth power plant had changed the landscape. The wind has blown ash toward the sea, dispensing its residue throughout nearby mangroves. This threatens both the wildlife in those waters and the livelihoods of community members who rely on the ocean for food, work, and recreation, according to Colón Burgos.
“There seems to be no escaping it,” he said of the plant’s reach — and maybe his island home’s reliance on fossil fuels, as well. “But not on my watch.”
People love riding Link. The more Sound Transit builds, the more Seattle votes with our feet. But planning and building expansions can take decades. It’s clear that we need Link expansion beyond what is currently planned, and our rapidly growing city and the burgeoning climate crisis demand we take action without delay. That’s why it’s time for Seattle to start working on ST4, the next round of Link rail expansion.
Looking ahead to the completion of ST3’s Seattle expansions in 2035, we see a city that has made huge strides building high quality transit but still lacks a comprehensive subway system. It’s a system that will still have frustrating gaps, lacking stations in our densest residential neighborhoods like Belltown and First Hill. We must think bigger and bring service to the entire city. A true Seattle Subway means being able to catch a train in Georgetown, Wallingford, or White Center and take a ride to Lake City, Crown Hill, or Fremont. ST3 is a huge step forward, but it falls well short of the vision of ST Complete, the vision of a Seattle fully connected by high-quality transit.
Seattle can’t afford to wait; it is imperative that we take charge of our future. Seattle is adding more residents than all King County suburbs combined. Our next expansion vote should come in 2024, on the heels of the opening of major expansions to Northgate, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way, and Lynnwood. More people than ever will be riding Link. More people than ever will be asking: Why can’t we have Link in our neighborhood? We must be ready with the best possible answer: You can.
Sound Transit’s regional process has worked very well at creating political space for investments and will pay huge dividends for generations to come, but it has come at a glacial pace. The Sound Transit Long Range Plan lacks critical Seattle lines that would have extremely high ridership. Meanwhile, the rest of the region is unlikely to be ready to move forward with expansion until sometime in the 2030s.
There are very serious risks in planning subway expansion piecemeal instead of as a system. Stations that should be built for eventual transfers have to be built that way from the start. Tunnels that should allow for future expansion have to be built that way from the start. If Seattle doesn’t authorize further expansion in 2024, we fear that the brand new subway tunnel Sound Transit is building as part of ST3 will just be for a single, solitary line that won’t ever live up to the potential of the huge investment we are making. This will mean far higher costs and longer timelines and possibly stopping expansion to some neighborhoods.
So how do we pay for it? There are options: The City Transportation Authority (CTA) and the Seattle Transit Benefit District (TBD) are existing funding sources that have potential. The CTA can be used as-is, but can be greatly improved with state action. Please join us in urging your state legislators to improve the CTA.
We stand now at the same spot we stood when we started working towards ST3 in 2011. The need is clear but there is a lot of work to do. We’ll need to select a funding source and get politicians on board but the very first step is the same as it’s always been – get people excited about what is possible.
For that, we need your help. Come join Seattle Subway. Help us write our coming series expounding on the merits of each potential ST4 line. Help us get the word out at farmers markets and community events around Seattle. Help us by letting politicians and Sound Transit know you want more expansion.
What we said when we first started our work in 2011 is as true today as it was then: Traffic is over – if you want it.