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Eiseman/My Turn: Pipeline to jobs?

I have been impressed with The Recorder’s extensive coverage of the proposed Kinder Morgan shale gas transmission pipeline across the state. I commend reporter Richie Davis for taking up the question of the jobs at stake in this proposal. His May 17 article prompts other further essential questions and discussion:

Of the “3,000 jobs” the Northeast Expansion Project could bring, how many would be in Massachusetts?

How many of the Massachusetts jobs would require specialized workers to be brought in from out of state?

Can Massachusetts union workers be engaged to fix the pipes in the decaying infrastructure — some 4,000 leaks in natural gas pipelines under the streets of Boston, for example? Such work would not only provide jobs, but could prevent the kind of gas-leak-explosion disaster that destroyed part of Springfield’s downtown last year.

Based on Kinder Morgan’s $2.7 billion price tag for this pipeline, each job this project would create would cost nearly $1 million. In contrast, according to a 2012 report of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC), “Research indicates that each $1 million spent on residential weatherization supports 12 direct in-the-field full-time jobs.” This is 10 times the jobs-return-on-investment vs. the pipeline proposal.

As currently planned, the $2.7 billion cost of this pipeline would not be paid by Kinder Morgan. The company has announced it is seeking a tariff that will require electric ratepayers, primarily, to foot the bill. However, low natural gas and electricity prices would not be assured for ratepayers, and Kinder Morgan would retain the profits.

Money from a new tariff could instead be used to offer training programs to help workers retool to join the green economy. As the energy-efficiency industry in Massachusetts expands, our solar-power industry is booming as well. In one of many examples, Vivant Solar announced in March of this year that it will add 240 new jobs to its 150 full-time employees in Massachusetts. These new, long-term, clean-energy jobs will be in the Taunton, Marlborough and Holyoke areas.

A 2014 report from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) states: “Clean energy jobs in Massachusetts grew by 11.8 percent between June 2012 and June 2013, the second year of double-digit growth. Over the past two years, clean energy jobs have grown by 24.4 percent with 5,557 clean energy companies now employing 79,994 workers across the Commonwealth.” This compares to the overall 3 percent jobs growth among all industries combined in the commonwealth over the same period.

“Building a clean energy future is central to our growth strategy, and another year of double digit job growth is proof that our strategy is working,” says Gov. Patrick in the EOEEA 2014 performance report. “We pursue our clean energy agenda because we cannot leave our future to chance. Our clean energy industry is putting thousands of our residents to work in every corner of the commonwealth, catalyzing economic development and creating a healthier Massachusetts for the next generation.”

I call on the Patrick administration to stay true to its pioneering direction that is already producing such resounding success: please do not allow our commonwealth’s resources, new investment, or political will to support the extreme overbuild of fossil fuel infrastructure embodied in this proposed pipeline project.

It is clear that 3,000 short-term jobs at a cost of $1 million each are not a driving force behind this proposed pipeline. Any economic analysis must go beyond “someone will have a job building the pipeline.” Other jobs, and lives of other workers, are at stake when funds are diverted for constructing this pipeline and away from other job sectors. This is especially true when those funds may come out of the pockets of every business and person who pays an electric bill.

Katy Eiseman, who lives in Cummington, is co-founder of nofrackedgasinmass.org. She holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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