Pipeline meeting in Orange outlines action towns can take
ORANGE — Local people have potentially more of a say in determining the fate of a proposed gas pipeline through Franklin County than they may realize, a local conservationist is telling pipeline foes.
Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust Executive Director Leigh Youngblood addressed about 40 people Tuesday, wearing an “Article 97” T-shirt to remind them of a state constitutional provision protecting conservation lands from developments like the controversial Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Northeast Energy Direct project.
Youngblood said there are several “legal speed bumps” in what is expected to be federal approval of the nearly 300-mile project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and that town Conservation Commissions and other boards, as well as action by other boards and citizens, will be key.
He was speaking with Conway attorney Thomas Lesser and Kenneth Berthiume of North Quabbin Pipeline Action Committee at a forum at the Community Church of North Orange and Tully.
A critical juncture, Lesser and Youngblood agreed, is that any taking of land designated for conservation by the state, with tax money dedicated for that purpose, would need two-thirds approval by both the state House and Senate to be developed.
Western Massachusetts legislators, and those along the pipeline route, have largely come out in opposition to the pipeline, although the requirement is 27 of the 40 senators and 106 of the 160 representatives.
For that reason, Lesser said it’s essential that project opponents tell people they know in other parts of the state to convey the reasons why the project should be opposed.
He said that the opposition to the project from both of the state’s U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. James McGovern, both gubernatorial candidates Donald Berwick and Steven Grossman, along with both Democratic candidates for attorney general and a host of state legislators, is unprecedented.
Along the route, 25 towns to date have adopted non-binding resolutions opposing the project, with more contemplated, including one at an Orange special town meeting tonight.
Half of the landowners along the route have refused permission for tests on their property, the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network has raised $15,000 so far for legal action and petitions with thousands of signatures were presented earlier this month to the governor and legislature in opposition to the project.
“I don’t think they had any sense there was going to be the opposition that’s coming up in this state,” said Lesser.
Lesser, one of several lawyers who have begun looking at how they can work, at reduced rates, to halt the $4 billion project, said, “If this pipeline is going to be stopped, it’s going to be stopped because citizens band together to stop it. We’re going to bring legal challenges, we’re going to put up roadblocks, but ultimately, it’s going to come down to a federal agency who in the past has almost never denied people the right to build.
But even without a FERC docket established for the project, Youngblood said, there’s nothing to prevent people from writing to the federal agency’s commissioners, citing specific reasons for their opposition.
TGP has backed off plans to go to the state Department of Public Utilities to force landowners to allow survey work to be done, and while it may still take that step, Youngblood said, it can only require surveying, and not the kind of soil testing and other more invasive steps the company has already begun doing, she said.
On the other hand, Lesser explained that if FERC eventually grants the company a needed Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, the federal government could argue that it preempts any state role in the matter, and it can order that lands along the route be taken by eminent domain.
But he and others added that the pipeline represents an overbuilt infrastructure destined to ultimately supply a liquefied natural gas terminal for export of the fuel overseas.
“I don’t think there’s a need here,” Lesser said in explaining his own opposition to the project, which would bring 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day from the shale fields of Pennsylvania to Wright, N.Y., and then eastward to Dracut, north of Lowell.
Along the way, the path of the pipeline, for which TGP parent Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, plans to file a pre-application with FERC next month for environmental review, would pass through Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange in Franklin County.
Later in the program, Berthiume presented information on why the stated need for the pipeline could be obviated through greater energy conservation. The Deval Patrick administration has called for a further state study of alternatives to meeting the state’s energy and has backed off its support for a new tariff on electricity bills to pay for such a project.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference Wednesday in Greenfield, Gov. Patrick said, “Coal-fired plants have been coming off-line even faster than anticipated ... so we have a lot of needs, and updating that (study) to see how quickly we can get to a carbon-free future seems warranted. In order to have the (tariff-related) conversation, we need all the data to be up to date, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”