A group of western Massachusetts lawmakers have joined together in opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cut across the state.
Kinder Morgan’s proposal includes a total of 346 miles of new 36-inch pipeline including loops along existing pipelines. With route selection and public outreach ongoing, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct Project would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New York to Dracut, Massachusetts. The formerly named Northeast Expansion Project would be partially paid for by an electricity ratepayer increase supported by the six New England governors.
State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield joined fellow Democrats and state representatives Gailanne Cariddi of North Adams, Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox, Paul Mark of Peru and Stephen Kulik of Worthington in making their opposition clear in a joint statement. Downing says he alone has received about a dozen community resolutions in opposition to the project.
“The concerns we heard from constituents around environmental issues, public health issues and the cost of the pipeline…all in, we thought it was important to make sure that as the representatives of communities that would impacted by it, we needed to make our voices heard,” said Downing.
The only Berkshire lawmaker not to sign is State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier. The Democrat from Pittsfield says she is holding off on outright opposition until she hears more from Kinder Morgan, the Texas-based company proposing the pipeline.
“I certainly don’t want it going through protected lands as a general rule,” Farley-Bouvier said. “Now if we came to some conclusion that we found a better route and it was a project more of the size that we would want it to be and there’s a small part of public land, compromise can be reached eventually. But at this time, I see no reason to vote for that.”
Farley-Bouvier says representatives from Kinder Morgan have been invited to speak before Pittsfield’s Committee on Public Health and Safety tonight. She also questions the ratepayer hike.
“Is that energy going to be used by the people paying that tariff or are we paying a tariff for energy that somebody else is going to use?” Farley-Bouvier said. “So I’m really concerned about that.”
Kinder Morgan’s website says where the gas goes once it is delivered to local distributors is up to those companies and that Tennessee Gas anticipates it will ask Massachusetts lawmakers for easement rights on conservation land. Starting in Richmond in early July, a rotating group of protesters have walked and biked across Massachusetts to Dracut, the pipeline’s proposed destination. The group is planning a rally at Boston Common Wednesday to urge Governor Deval Patrick to oppose any rate hike.
A letter of support for increased natural gas capacity from the Associated Industries of Massachusetts is also listed on Kinder Morgan’s website. AIM Senior Vice President Bob Rio wrote the letter to Kinder Morgan. While AIM doesn’t support individual projects, Rio says the primary concern for its 5,000 business members is ratepayer cost.
“We’re not getting the cheap gas from the Marcellus Shale and other places,” Rio said. “So this gas capacity will help us get some of that cheap gas. If we don’t take it it’s going to go someplace else and they’re going to get the cheap gas and we’re going to be in desperation territory up here.”
Rio says suppliers are increasing price quotes for upcoming months resulting from a gas shortage this past winter. Stats from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show the average electricity retail price across all sectors increased more than a cent per kilowatt hour in the past year in New England. The roughly 15-cent rate is the highest of any region on the U.S. mainland. Rio adds some of the environmental opposition to the pipeline is misplaced.
“Starving the natural gas supply like we had last year, all that did was make some of the power plants burn oil,” Rio said. “So from an environmental standpoint you went into a worst territory, versus actually burning the natural gas.”
Ultimately, the pipeline approval is a federal process and state actions can be disregarded by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission if deemed in the public interest. Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ed Markey sits on the Senate’s environmental and public works committee. The Democrat says he is looking at the issue very closely.
“We have to have the answers to the questions which are out there about the safety, the need and the export issues that are related to the pipeline,” said Markey.
The projected construction start date is January 2017.