Conservation commissioners to Baker: Say ‘no’ to pipelines

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/2/2017 10:28:33 PM

Town conservation commissions in Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Leverett, Northfield, Warwick and Whately have joined 67 of its counterparts from around the state in calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to end his support for new interstate pipeline projects.

“We think that would be an important next step” after Baker’s Integrated Climate Change Strategy and the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, says a letter coordinated by the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts, raising concerns about future costs resulting from climate change, including rising sea levels, extreme storms and heat waves.

“We need safe, reliable, and affordable energy for our residents, businesses, and municipalities,” the letter says. “Our state can — and must — achieve those goals by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, rather than in more fossil fuel use that is warming our planet and creating significant problems for our cities and towns.”

Rather than a response to an immediate threat from a particular project, the letter is a statement of principle, said Scott Jackson of the Whately Conservation Commission.

Eugene Benson, executive director of the statewide association, said he’s heard reports of Spectra Energy seeking legislation to be introduced to require electricity customers to pay for costs of building gas pipelines, following a Supreme Judicial Court decision saying that charging electricity customers a fee to pay for gas infrastructure would be illegal.

The letter from 74 commissions, he wrote, is supported by a Feb. 6 report by Synapse Energy Economics Inc., that found the proposed Access Northeast pipeline from the Rhode Island border to metropolitan Boston and beyond would cost consumers $6.6 billion, not the $3.2 billion previously claimed. Also, the report found that the “pipeline would not be needed,” and if built, “ratepayers will bear substantial net cost increases on their utility bills, even if the pipeline alleviates winter price spikes.”

Benson also wrote, “within several years of the pipeline’s construction, the overall need for natural gas in New England’s electric sector is expected to decline dramatically. … Under these circumstances, spending $6.6 billion on a new pipeline meant to provide natural gas year-round to electric power plants is not a reasonable or cost-effective way to address pipeline capacity constraints.”

Benson told The Recorder he is personally concerned that following a Berkshire Superior Court judge’s 2016 decision allowing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s federally-approved Connecticut Expansion Project to be constructed through Otis State Forest, the National Gas Act would override the state constitution’s Article 97 protection of state conservation land for new pipeline projects.

“I still think federal pre-emption is going to be overriding concern,” he said.

“New interstate pipelines create permanent cuts in the landscape, traversing conservation lands, crossing wetlands, despoiling vistas and forests, and disrupting farms, residential properties, and communities with little regard for community plans or needs,” the commissions’ letter says. “With federal preemption they even override conservation land protections set forth in Article 97 of our state constitution. And the gas they transport adds significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.”

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