Rep. Mark: State should help towns with pipeline studies

Recorder Staff
Last modified: 2/23/2016 11:08:37 PM
NORTHFIELD — A five-member subcommittee formed on behalf of the Board of Health earlier this month to study the health impacts of natural gas infrastructure has met with state Rep. Paul Mark to discuss securing state funding for a health impact assessment and townwide air quality studies in preparation for a pipeline.

Mark signaled that he would try to put money and language in the upcoming state budget to facilitate state agencies doing such work ahead of federal approval of a proposed natural gas pipeline.

Subcommittee Chairman Bob Dickerman, Town Administrator Brian Noble, Board of Health Chairman Bob MacEwen and two Northfield residents met with the legislator and his assistant Monday at the Greenfield Community College downtown campus to evaluate the possibility of state agencies performing such analyses.

A health impact assessment aims to present all the health hazards of controversial projects such as the operation of wood pellet boilers and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Northeast Energy Direct project slated to cross eight Franklin County towns. Air quality tests measure the amount of particulate matter, including volatile organic compounds that settle in the air resulting from venting and other regular compressor station operations, and are used to advise residents when it’s safe to go outside. This test was recommended by the research team from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project who measured the health effects of a 12,000-horsepower natural gas compressor station in Minisink, N.Y.

The 415-mile-long pipeline is expected to carry up to 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Marcellus shale fields through eight Franklin County towns along the way: Ashfield, Shelburne, Conway, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick. Northfield is slated for a 41,000-horsepower compressor station.

Mark advised the attendees to send a letter to state agencies including the state Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Protection with a request to perform the health assessment and fund baseline testing. For the letter to hold any weight, however, it must include a close estimate of how much the requests would cost. The locals plan to talk about expenses with experts from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the three-person research team from the Pennsylvania organization to gather such information. Mark needs the numbers for both studies in six weeks when the House will be working on next fiscal year’s budget.

“I think the letter is a good idea to the DPH and the DEP and I’ll circulate a similar letter to the legislators,” he said, adding that if needed, he’ll even go as far as using legal language in the budget to pressure the organizations in following through with the requests.

“Let’s say that the services they would provide the region for these compressor stations and for air quality monitoring and such would cost $70,000, Mark continued, “we would add $70,000 in the budget specifying that it shall be spent on (certain tasks).”

Noble said the benefit of DEP assistance is that whatever it enforces cannot surpass the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as it’s a delegated authority of the state. It also oversees the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, which requires state agencies to study the environmental impact of their projects with the assurance that all measures to either avoid, minimize or mitigate environmental damage have been accounted for.

“The nice part about the MEPA process is that the Clean Air Act is delegated to Massachusetts,” Noble said. “The MEPA process, which is also going to encompass to the NEPA process — the National Environmental Policy Act — won’t be preempted by FERC. Whatever MEPA decides is going to have to be adhered to by Tennessee Gas.”

Mark believes sending letters to statewide environmental agencies before the FERC announces its approval or disapproval of the project will remind the organizations of citizen requests in regard to their everyday health.

“It’s good to show them what exactly people in the area are looking for with what they are up against and how strictly — if this should ever come to pass — we are going to hold them to those standards,” Mark said.


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