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In The Arena

Collins: Pipeline positions solidifying

After several months of relative silence,Beacon Hill lawmakers are finally starting to take a stand against a proposal to string a natural gas pipeline through Franklin County.

Late last week, 1st Franklin State Rep. Steve Kulik and 2nd Berkshire Rep. Paul Mark, Berkshire County Reps. Smitty Pignatelli and Gail Carriddi, and Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden State Senator Ben Downing issued a joint statement explaining their opposition to the Kinder Morgan proposal for “environmental, economic, public safety, and public health reasons.”

“It’s an important time for the delegation to come forward and speak with one voice because it will allow us to have more impact on steering the review of this project,” Kulik said. “Most of the permitting and review authority lies with the federal government, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have an impact on the discussions at the state level.”

This isn’t the first time local reps have spoken out. Second Franklin Rep. Denise Andrews has been the most consistent in her opposition, all but threatening to chain herself to a tree to prevent the bulldozers from rolling. Mark has also publicly expressed reservations, but Friday’s statement was the first time a group of lawmakers have expressed such unequivocal opposition.

There was one significant name missing from that list — Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg — who issued a statement Wednesday intended to clarify his position on a project which he stresses is only a “proposal” at this point.

“I don’t have complete answers yet,” Rosenberg wrote. “What I do know is that the situation is complex and fluid, and unless we take appropriate steps in the near term, our residents, our businesses, our schools, our hospitals, our Commonwealth, could see a tripling of energy costs in the foreseeable future.”

I know Rosenberg is taking a lot of heat from some constituents for not taking a stronger stand, and his statement isn’t likely to change that. But to fully understand his position requires an understanding of the political reality of life as an elected state official. Representatives and senators actually have two constituencies to consider — the one that elects them, which should be priority one — and the Beacon Hill establishment, which can go a long way toward determining how successful said representative is in securing resources for their districts.

We’ve seen examples before where representatives who are darlings of their constituency go to Beacon Hill, run afoul of the speaker or majority leader, and end up on the back bench for the next two or three terms. It’s no different for a guy like Rosenberg, who is about to become Senate President, and, as such, can ill afford to spend all of his political capital on one issue — especially when that issue forces him to square off with a governor with whom he’s going to need to work closely when he takes the gavel in January.

Rosenberg did make it clear that his concern over the region’s long-term energy viability does not mean he doesn’t care about the impact this project could have on a largely pristine area of his district.

“I do not want a pipeline running through some of the most beautiful areas of Franklin County. Nor do I want our residents and employers to pay exorbitant energy costs or face brownouts or blackouts because of our failure to act,” Rosenberg said. “But saying ‘no’ to a proposal we don’t want is not enough. We have to show that it is unnecessary.”

“I want the future to be powered by the greenest, most affordable, most sustainable energy possible. That’s what I’m working for,” he added. “Please make no mistake about that.”

I won’t, senator — but I can’t guarantee that the rest of your constituents will feel the same way.

* * *

The award for the all-time greatest political prop may have to go to Clarkdale Fruit Farm owner Ben Clark, who walked around the room prior to last Thursday’s Franklin Regional Council of Governments/Franklin County Planning Board Kinder Morgan hearing handing out apricots from the very trees which may be torn out to make room for the proposed pipeline.

During the Q&A, I asked one of the Kinder Morgan engineers if he had tasted one of the apricots prior to the hearing, which they apparently hadn’t — which was no (apple) skin off Clark’s nose.

“I wasn’t keeping them from them,” Clark said after the meeting, adding, with a wink. “On second thought, they’ve got enough money to buy their own.”

* * *

August 11 is the date that the Greenfield Human Rights Commission has chosen to honor the late Marty McGuane with the inaugural “Greenfield Human Rights Award.”

The commission will present the award to members of the McGuane family in a 7 p.m. ceremony in the second floor meeting room at Greenfield Town Hall. A short reception will follow. McGuane is the first recipient to have his name engraved on the plaque signifying the award, which will be handed out each Dec. 10 in honor of “International Human Rights Day.”

I’ll be there, as will, I’m sure, a lot of people who were touched by McGuane’s lifetime of service to his community.

Chris Collins is news director/managing editor of WHAI FM and Bear Country 95.3. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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