Lawmakers pledge to fight gas pipeline

 

Greenfield Recorder 06/04/2014, Page A01

Kinder Morgan a no-show at community forum

By DAVID RAINVILLE Recorder Staff

GREENFIELD — Just about the only thing missing from a Tuesday night panel on the proposed natural gas pipeline was the project’s proponents.

The Kinder Morgan Co., which proposed the Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s northeast expansion, declined the invitation to the panel discussion.

If anyone else in the crowd at Greenfield Community College was in favor of the pipeline that would cut a path across Massachusetts from the New York border to Dracut, they didn’t speak up.

Eric Johnson, director of external affairs for ISO New England, perhaps came closest to supporting the project. The agency oversees the region’s electricity supply and pricing structure.

“In New England, we have two uses for natural gas — heating and power generation,” Johnson said. “There isn’t enough pipeline capacity to support both in the winter.”

Johnson said natural gas demand is expected to increase in coming years, as coal, nuclear and other power plants are scheduled to shut down, and will likely be replaced with natural gas plants.

To address the expected need for natural gas, the six governors of New England, along with the New England States Committee on Electricity, have proposed that the pipeline’s construction be subsidized with $2.7 billion, which would come from a new tariff on New Englanders’ electric bills.

Other panelists called the tariff outrageous.

“(Kinder Morgan) says they don’t own the gas, just the line — but they’re not paying to build it; we are,” said Bruce Winn, of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

“That would be like me having to pay for a UPS truck because I occasionally get a package,” he continued. “It makes very good sense for Kinder Morgan, but no sense for us.”

Fellow panelists, as well as members of the crowd, said that $2.7 billion could be better spent supporting renewable energy sources.

“There are alternatives for energy,” said panelist Shanna Cleveland, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “The New England governors need to involve the citizens in deciding what the energy future will be. The things we build in the next five years will be the power systems we’re living with in 2040, 2050 and 2060.”

State Reps. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, and Paul Mark, D-Peru, both panelists, pledged to do what they could to stop the pipeline, and urged the crowd to keep fighting as well.

“We’re in Massachusetts, and the last time I checked, we knew how to throw tea in the harbor, how to have Shay’s Rebellion, and how to protect our environment,” said Andrews.

“You have a right to fight it, and towns have a right to have their opinions voiced,” said Mark. “The people of the state have a great opportunity to fight the pipeline, with five to 10 candidates for governor, make sure you know where they stand on it.”

Mark and Andrews said they would work closely with state senators, U.S. legislators and others as they continue to oppose the pipeline.

Panelist Leigh Youngblood, executive director of the Mount Grace Land Trust, said landowners on the pipeline’s proposed route should take extra cautions to protect themselves. She recommended that they hire attorneys to represent them in dealing with the company, as well as at different levels of the permitting process.

The Mount Grace Land Trust was successful in having the pipeline re-routed to skirt a parcel of conservation land in Montague, after the trust hired an attorney to write a 33-page memo on the rights of landowners, which was sent to the company.

“The company wrote us back afterward, and said ‘we moved the pipeline, so we don’t have to answer the questions you asked in your memo,’” said Youngblood.

Whether or not they want the pipeline, people may find they’re powerless to stop it. If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decides it’s in the public interest, the agency can grant the pipeline eminent domain. In that case, landowners would be paid an assessed value for the parts of their property through which the pipeline would pass, and the project would go on despite their protests.

Shelburne Selectman Joseph Judd, also a panelist, said his board handled a project that required eminent domain in his town nearly 20 years ago.

“It was one of the most gut-wrenching experiences of my life,” he said. “We took every step possible to make sure every landowner, tract of land and vernal pool was not only addressed as necessary, but that it carried a sense of importance.”

“I doubt we’d see anything like that (level of care) happen outside the local level, where it’s people’s friends and neighbors,” he said. Judd added that his board only became aware of the proposed pipeline after property owners began receiving letters from the company, asking their permission to survey their land.

“We still have not heard one word from Kinder Morgan, and we’re not happy about that,” he said.

You can reach David Rainville at:drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 on Twitter follow: @RecorderRain