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Warren: We can do better

Massachusetts has distinguished itself as a state with a strong and enduring commitment to environmental conservation, a commitment evidenced in the wetlands, forests, waters, and state and private conservation lands that run from our coastline to the Berkshires. The commonwealth is also a leader in developing clean energy and promoting energy efficiency. In fact, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranks Massachusetts number one in the country in its energy efficiency policies and programs.

Our commonwealth has amazing energy entrepreneurs and smart policies that promote greener communities and energy conservation. These policies have helped to spur statewide investments and advancements in clean energy and energy efficiency. That, in turn, is helping develop more clean-energy jobs, which grew 11.8 percent between 2012 and 2013 and now employ about 80,000 people statewide, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

And these investments have paid off, helping to keep our air and water clean, helping to preserve the commonwealth’s natural beauty, and helping to grow our economy. We should build on these successes, particularly when making decisions about investments in infrastructure that will affect our mix of energy consumption for decades to come.

In recent months, representatives of Kinder Morgan Inc. and its subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company LLC, have approached Massachusetts landowners, towns and land trusts to ask permission to conduct surveys for a proposed pipeline that would carry natural gas from the New York border across our state to Dracut. Rather than using existing infrastructure, roads, and rights-of-way, the company is considering routing this pipeline largely through undeveloped land.

I have heard from many Massachusetts homeowners and businesses that are deeply concerned about the impact of this proposal on their farms and properties. Conservation commissions in towns along the intended route and citizen groups dedicated to protecting our state’s environment have also raised concerns that this proposed natural gas pipeline would needlessly disrupt environmentally sensitive conservation land. Because I share many of these concerns, I do not support the current proposal.

Kinder Morgan argues that the proposed pipeline could play a role in helping our region meet its energy needs. It is true that New England faces energy infrastructure challenges and that we currently rely on natural gas for heating in the winter and for electrical generation year-round. Over the past few winters, which have been especially cold, we have experienced some of the highest natural gas prices in the nation. This is a serious problem, which we cannot ignore.

But the need to improve our short-term energy outlook and reduce unacceptably high energy prices does not mean that we should rush to support every energy infrastructure project, no matter the consequences. The decisions we make about energy proposals today will have an impact on future generations, and in each instance we must weigh the potential benefits against the potential consequences — both in the short-term and long-term.

Given the cost and infrastructure realities of the Northeast, it is likely that natural gas will continue to play a role in our transition away from coal and oil electricity production and toward a cleaner energy future. But our aim must be to reduce reliance on carbon-based fuels, and than means careful consideration of clean energy alternatives as well as other natural gas pipeline alternatives that do not create wholly new infrastructure. For example, upgrading our old, methane-leaking pipes can help provide affordable power for businesses and consumers without threatening our families and our state.

Before we sink more money in gas infrastructure, we have an obligation wherever possible to focus our investments on the clean technologies of the future — not the dirty fuels of the past — and to minimize the environmental impact of all our energy infrastructure projects. We can do better — and we should.

Elizabeth Warren is a Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts. This first appeared in The Berkshire Eagle.

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