To protest construction of the Weymouth Gas Compressor south of Boston, Andrea Honore sat outside the office of former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker for a total of 211 days over three years beginning in 2017.
Despite her protest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Massachusetts environmental regulators approved the 7,700-horsepower compressor, which began full operations in January 2021, pumping 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day at 1,440 pounds per square inch through a pipeline running from Pennsylvania to Canada.
The Weymouth compressor occupies a site at the mouth of the Fore River, a gritty industrial area across from Quincy Point and Germantown, two low-income, environmental justice communities. In addition to the compressor, at least eight other existing fossil fuel and industrial facilities are located within a mile, including a gasoline and oil depot, a chemical plant, two power plants, a sewage pumping station and a hazardous waste transfer and treatment facility.
Honore, a graphic designer who lived in Weymouth but worked in Boston near the state house, would walk over to Baker’s office during her lunch hour and stage her sit-ins. Honore was joined in opposition to the compressor by Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, and by politicians including Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Democrats.
Residents of Quincy Point and Germantown have experienced higher rates of cancer, pediatric asthma and respiratory and heart diseases, according to a health impact assessment conducted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of greater Boston, in partnership with state health and environmental agencies.
Still, state environmental regulators issued an operating permit for the compressor despite data cited by Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility showing that the compressor would emit particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and toxins benzene and formaldehyde.
Within the first month of operation, the compressor reported two unplanned releases of natural gases. Later, in 2022, an adjudicator for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protections recommended that the compressor’s permit be reevaluated. To date, the compressor remains in operation and its permit has not been revoked.
Gov. Maura Healey, who replaced Baker in January, previously served as the state’s attorney general and promised last year during her campaign for governor to enact reforms aimed at combating climate change. She pledged to bring 100 percent clean electricity to Massachusetts by 2030.
With Healey in office and environmentalists hopeful that her administration will take a much tougher stance in regulating polluting fossil fuel infrastructure, Honore spoke with Inside Climate News about her long protest, her ongoing concerns about the Weymouth compressor and her hopes for a greater emphasis on renewable energy by Healey. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How did you get into climate politics and what inspired you to sit outside of Governor Baker’s office for so long?
I was raised to keep my mouth shut and stay out of everything and I pretty much did that before the Weymouth Gas Compressor project came up. What got me about the gas compressor was that it was going to operate in a tiny location without anyone on site. My brain couldn’t wrap itself around that. I just felt like it was wrong. Little did I know that this has happened thousands, if not millions, of times to people all over the country. I grew up in a gas and oil state, but had no idea, because I’m white. I didn’t have to live right next to that stuff, so I had no idea.
With the Weymouth Gas Compressor project in its initial stages, I saw all of these other activist groups doing marches and writing petitions—doing all this stuff, and there was no acknowledgement from Baker. I started to realize that he can easily ignore us and that he has.
Before this moment, I’d never called an elected official before or visited the statehouse. But I realized that I could try something that would be difficult for him to ignore and something I could manage to consistently do. I work a 15-minute walk from the statehouse and I could go sit outside his office during my lunch break. I had a concept in my head that I was going to be the perfect, polite protester. There was going to be no reason for him to not speak with me. So you know, I went in there, beginning in 2017, and my goal was just to raise awareness. This was a simple action I thought people could understand and, as I did it, I learned so much from activists and scientists across the country.
Throughout my 211 days sitting outside his office, I only got to speak with him once when we were in an elevator together. We’re in the elevator together and I said, “Sir, what’s it gonna take?” He looks down at me and says, “You’ve been so brutal to me, that I have nothing to say to you.” He said that to my face.
Did Baker’s staff ever give you a reason why he wouldn’t meet with you?
Oh, yes. It depended on who asked. I had a friend of mine, Wendy, she would call constituent services and ask, “Why won’t he meet with her?” They’d say he didn’t have time in his schedule. Let me tell you how many one-off people would come in and out of his office during my 211 days there. Later, I asked the constituent services director why Baker wouldn’t meet with me, he said Baker only meets with groups of people. So I was like, “OK, how many?” I’ll get some people. But there was always a myriad of excuses and barriers to meeting with Baker.
Could you speak a little more to your concerns with the Weymouth Gas Compressor specifically?
Before I knew a lot it was just that the gas compressor was shoved in a tiny space. And usually, not that these things should exist at all, but usually they’re on like 150 acres, far away from people. And the site the Weymouth Gas Compressor is on is densely populated, plus there are a lot of potentially explosive facilities nearby. So it was like, God, this is really bad. It’s not supposed to be on just four acres. The wrongness of it and the list of problems with it is massive.
Once this thing was built, in 2020, there were a lot of protests. But then, COVID started, so, unfortunately, we couldn’t do that anymore. But they’ve dumped an untold amount of methane and volatile organic compounds on us. And there’s no regulation from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on that. So it’s always a looming danger, an immediate danger or a long-term danger.
In 2022, the compressor was having a permit re-evaluated, and Gov. Healey was campaigning for office with climate on her agenda. Did you think that things might change with the compressor?
I love what she’s done on the federal level: taking on Exxon and all of that stuff. In terms of the compressor, there was communication, from what I understand, but my overall feeling is this: it’s like Charlie Brown and Lucy. She holds the football out for you, but, ultimately, takes it away. She’s the ultimate Lucy with a football.
When she was the attorney general, she was defending the state against us, which was her job, but she didn’t have to do that.
Earlier, I asked Shannon Liss-Riordan, when she was running for attorney general, “What do you do when a governor doesn’t follow the laws?” And she said something like, “Well, I can’t do much about that. But if the governor has their agencies make certain decisions, I would refuse to defend it as the attorney general.”
Healey didn’t even do that when she was the attorney general. So we had high hopes and then had them just slowly crushed into more of a fine powder over the years.
Do you think Gov. Healey will take a tougher stance in regulating the compressor than Baker did?
No, nothing is different at this point. She’s said that she’s not looking back at any of Baker’s decisions and as soon as I saw that quote from one of her people I thought, “Oh my gosh.”
That’s a flat out refusal to do anything about any of the egregious decisions that Baker made. So that’s what I had to chew on for quite a while, and that was very disheartening.
She keeps saying things like, “I’m watching that,” or “We’re taking a hard look at that,” and I just don’t know how hard of a look is being taken. With things getting worse and worse climate wise, we’ve kind of had it with all the talk and no action.
If you had a chance to speak with Healey, what would you say to her?
I’d just ask her to communicate with us. If you care about environmental justice, go speak with the environmental justice communities. Collaborate with us and prove us wrong. Prove us wrong that you’re going to ignore us.