Loopholes in the System: How Student Loan Litigation May Change Going Forward
In June 2014, the Department of Education greatly reduced its funding from the for-profit institution Corinthian Colleges, which had received $1.4 billion in funding annually from the federal government. But serious concerns that Corinthian had mishandled the funds, redirecting them to creditors and other avenues rather than to students, led to multiple federal and state investigations. Finally, the DOE took action – it stopped giving the institution federal loans. In April 2015, cut off from these loans, Corinthian shut down the last of its campuses’ doors. Now, many Corinthian students are looking for help with the student loans they have been saddled with, and with nothing to show for it. The DOE, in June 2015, released on its website the two ways in which it plans to help students with loans related to their education at Corinthian. For students who were attending the closed down campuses, there is the option of loan forgiveness. The DOE is expanding the class of students eligible for loan forgiveness to include those who attended the school as far back as June 2014.
More strikingly, the DOE is making an unprecedented move in extending a loan forgiveness option for students under the “defense to repayment”. Defense to repayment claims are usually brought under state UDAP laws – Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices laws. These state level claims provide easier relief as they do not require proof of intent and reliance may be presume. However, this rule has yet to be enforced on a federal level – whether in the Corinthian case or any other direct loan dispute. In the past 15 years, the Department received a grand total of five claims under the ‘defense to repayment’ provision of the law. This is partly because, when the rule was promulgated there was no guidance on the procedures for filing, disputing and resolving a claim under defense to repayment. In December 2014, 12 U.S. senators, led by Elizabeth Warren submitted a letter to the Department of Education asking for clarification on defense to repayment. In response, the DOE is attempting to make the process easier for thousands of Corinthian borrowers by putting in place an application procedure.
In another unprecedented move, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau worked with a buyer of partial Corinthian campuses and the DOE to secure a settlement valued at $480 million in debt relief for private student loan borrowers who attended Corinthian at the time of closing. Students who have private loans are also reassured that strong arm tactics – such as harassing calls and lawsuits – will not be used against them to collect on loans. These students will also have negative credit history erased from their credit reports. A broader lawsuit is currently still pending against Corinthian alleging predatory techniques were used to induce students to take out private loans.
There may be sufficient reason to invoke the “defense against repayment” option in the case of Corinthian colleges. But this may open the floodgates to other claims, especially in the for-profit education industry, that could fall under the defense. As the issue of burgeoning student loans in the millennial generation becomes a larger issue for the economy, this tiny loophole could create huge impacts in the coming years. More and more disgruntled students taking action may mean this “defense to repayment” could be extended to private, non-federal loans and public universities.
Recently, Obama’s administration has considering new rules and regulations allowing for easier debt relief. Several advocate groups have written to the DOE to make suggestions and provide guidance and encouragement in creating a clearer debt relief process. But the recent downfall of multiple for-profit educational institutions like Corinthian seems more a symptom of a toxic and unsustainable system stemming from overreliance on student loans; a system that forces the students to carry the burden for access to education. Relying on a short-term, half-formed relief strategy such as a “defense to repayment,” may just be akin putting a Band-Aid on a fatal wound.
Sonam Bhagat is from Lowell, Massachusetts and graduated from Boston College in 2011, concentrating in Finance and Accounting. Sonam is expected to matriculate from Boston University School of Law in 2017. Sonam will be working for a large corporate law firm in the summer of 2016 and hopes to explore various areas of law, in order to better decide her course after graduation.
The Demise of the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor Agreement
Maximillian Schrems, an Austrian law student, is at the center of a monumental shift in data relations between the United States and the European Union; a shift that revolves around a clash in philosophies regarding data privacy.
The EU views privacy as a fundamental human right. The U.S. does not. Americans seem willing to relinquish control of personally identifying data, as long as the data is protected and used responsibly. When a company does not protect personal data, Americans express their displeasure in the form of civil litigation rather than legislation.
In comparison, the EU codified data privacy rights in 1995 in Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (OJ 1995 L 281, P. 31) (“Data Protection Directive”). This directive provides strong data privacy rights for EU citizens. Most notably, each EU citizen has the right to, at any time, revoke previously given consent to obtain or use personally identifying data, access their own personally identifying data, and correct that personally identifying data.
Because of these stronger data privacy rights, the transfer of personally identifying data from the EU to the U.S. concerns many EU citizens and policy makers. The primary fear, which was intensified by the Edward Snowden revelations, is that U.S. companies will not respect EU Data Privacy Laws.
Under the Data Protection Directive, companies can legally transfer data from the EU to the U.S. by obtaining consent from the data owner, entering into data protection agreements, creating binding corporate rules, or implementing model clauses. These methods are far from ideal, however. They are expensive and subject U.S. companies to the jurisdiction of EU Data Privacy Commissions.
As e-commerce, remote work, and social media grew in popularity, the digital transfer of personal data became a regular part of daily life and existing data transfer methods proved unwieldy and burdensome. In response, the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Agreement (“Safe Harbor”) addressed these concerns by creating a streamlined process for U.S. companies to comply with the Data Protection Directive. Companies that self-certify with the FTC under Safe Harbor agree to abide by the principles of EU data privacy laws but are under FTC jurisdiction instead of EU jurisdiction.
While Safe Harbor addresses the concerns of U.S. companies, many in the EU criticize Safe Harbor as ineffective, maintaining that the self-certification process and lack of substantive enforcement renders Safe Harbor meaningless. In addition, classified documents made public by Edward Snowden in 2013 indicate that certain U.S. intelligence services allegedly tap into the central servers of major U.S. Internet companies and access personal data. By comply with U.S. law and allowing the government access to this data, companies cannot also adhere to the data privacy principles agreed to under Safe Harbor.
This very concern prompted Maximillian Schrems to file a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner regarding his personally identifying data collected by Facebook. As a Facebook user for over seven years, Mr. Schrems contends that a portion (if not all) of his data was transferred from Facebook’s Irish subsidiary to Facebook data servers located in the U.S.
The Irish Data Protection Commission originally rejected Mr. Schrems’ complaint, citing the Safe Harbor agreement as sufficient evidence that Facebook provided adequate levels of protection for the personally identifying data transferred to the U.S..
While Facebook is Safe Harbor certified, Mr. Schrems maintains that the Snowden revelations prove that U.S. law and policy are such that it is impossible for a company to simultaneously comply with Safe Harbor standards and U.S. law. As such, Mr. Schrems appealed his case to the High Court of Ireland.
On Sept 23, 2015 Advocate General Yves Bot (“AG Bot”) issued a strongly worded opinion in Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commission (case C-362/14), urging the Court of Justice of the European Union to suspend the existing Safe Harbor Agreements.
Less than two weeks later, the Court of Justice of the European Union did just that. On October 6, 2015 the Court invalidated Safe Harbor, declaring that Safe Harbor compromises the fundamental right to privacy, denies the right to judicial protection, and prevents enforcement of EU laws.
Effective immediately, the Court of Justice’s ruling creates very real problems for any U.S. company that relies on Safe Harbor to transfer data from the EU to the U.S. As of October 6, both future and all past data transfers completed under Safe harbor are illegal.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the European Commission and U.S. authorities are in the process of negotiating Safe Harbor reforms. The Court of Justice’s decision to invalidate Safe Harbor full stop creates an abrupt and unexpected obstacle for these negotiations. The ambiguity surrounding the legal and political future of personal data transfer from the EU leaves U.S. companies, operating under Safe Harbor, a choice between a limited set of less than ideal options:
- Immediately cease all data transfer and update current systems and processes to comply with the EU Data Protection Directive. While being extremely disruptive to business, it may also be difficult to completely shut off all forms of data transfer (such as employee information needed for hiring and payroll) between the U.S. and the EU.
- Continue operating as normal while concurrently developing new systems, hoping that the EU delays enforcing the Data Protection Directive and allows formerly Safe Harbor certified companies an opportunity to update systems and processes in order to comply with the Data Protection Directive outright. While the business may not suffer the full effects of a shutdown, a potentially substantial risk of legal proceedings exists.
- Implement an interim solution that ceases all non-essential transfers of personal data and focuses on ensuring compliance for critical data transfers, while waiting for the European Commission and U.S. authorities to continue their Safe Harbor reform negotiations. Relying on a diplomatic solution is a gamble that some companies may be willing to take. If a satisfactory solution cannot be worked out politically, then there is always Option 4.
- Cease all business in the EU that may result in the transfer of personal data from the EU to the U.S.. This response to the Court of Justice’s ruling may seem extreme, but for smaller businesses it may end up being the most economically rational response if the cost of compliance is greater than the benefit of doing business in the EU.
None of these options are ideal and each one presents significant challenges and uncertainty for U.S. companies. Not only will the initial expense of updating technological systems and business processes be expensive and time consuming, but the potential of increased oversight, auditing, and regulatory action imposed by EU Data Commissions will also result in a rise in the daily operating costs of any company that transfers personal data from the EU to the U.S.
The full extent of the damage caused by the demise of Safe Harbor remains unknown, but one thing is certain: this change in data relations between the U.S. and the EU signals a substantial increase in the cost of doing business in and with the EU.
Deborah J. Hinck is a Colorado native who has recently adopted Boston, Massachusetts as home. She received her B.S. with a double major in Electrical Computer Engineering and Applied Mathematics from the University of Colorado and her M.A. in Communications from the University of Washington. Deborah is expected to graduate from Boston University with a Juris Doctor in Spring 2017. She is interested in technology law and policy, including intellectual property, digital privacy, and digital security. Deborah hopes to contribute in these areas in the future.
Road to Approval: Congressional Hurdles For President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
President Obama’s second term has been defined by increased usage of his foreign policy powers. Whether or not one approves of the agreements with Cuba and Iran, among others, these agreements will have enormous implications for the United States and members of the international community. On October 5, 2015, President Obama announced his administration’s newest agreement: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP, a partnership between the United States, Japan, and ten other Pacific Rim nations, promises to be the largest regional trade accord in history. The key features of the agreement include improving market access, advancing living standards around the world, promoting innovation and trade, and integrating economies across the Asia-Pacific region. The TPP is set to positively impact “40 percent of the global economy.” Before taking effect, however, each of the twelve nations must ratify the agreement. For President Obama, this means presenting the text to Congress for approval.
The Constitution confers upon the president the ability to make treaties, so long as he has “the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” This consent exists when two-thirds of Senators present concur (Article II, section 2) to the treaty. However, Presidents throughout history have preferred making international agreements through executive agreements rather than treaties. Executive agreements, as opposed to treaties, allow a president to bypass Senate approval. Although the president’s ability to make such agreements is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has upheld their legality. See United States v. Belmont, 301 U.S. 324, 330 (1937) (holding that the Executive, as the sole organ of the government, has the authority to sign non-treaty agreements without the advice and consent of the Senate). Executive agreements, however, do not have the same legal status as treaties, unless they are ratified by the Senate. Executive agreements exist either as sole-executive agreements, made by the president alone if he is acting within his exclusive powers, and congressional-executive agreements, made by the president and authorized by Congress.
The TPP is an example of a congressional-executive agreement, and will need to be approved by a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate. However, before this vote happens, numerous procedural matters need to take place, according to the Congress-enacted Trade Promotion Authority. First, which has already occurred, negotiators from TPP countries must review the text of the agreement before the official text is released. Second, once the text was finalized, President Obama, on November 5, 2015, informed Congress that he intends on signing the TPP, which triggered a 90-day notice during which Congress may review the text (the public only gets 60 days to review the text). Third, once the 90-day period finishes in early February 2016, President Obama may sign the agreement. Fourth, once signed, President Obama must wait another 30 days before submitting the legislation to Congress. Fifth, since President Obama was given “fast-track authority” by Congress, Congress would not be able to make any amendments to the signed agreement, instead only being given the opportunity to reject or concur to the TPP. Thus, if everything goes according to President Obama’s plan, a vote could be held as early as March 2016. However, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees could offer suggestions for changes during the 30 day period preceding final submittal to Congress. This could push the vote date back, potentially past the 2016 Presidential elections.
The lengthy timeline for the TPP is likely realistic given the changes that will be proposed by the numerous proponents and opponents of the TPP. Depending on whose voice is louder, the TPP could be quickly approved by Congress or could theoretically be stalled until President Obama is no longer in office. Thus, it is important to analyze the points being put forth by the two groups.
Proponents of the TPP claim that TPP’s reduction in tariffs will make U.S. products more affordable abroad, which will increase U.S. exports dramatically. Second, the TPP will make the United States a more important player in a region that has long been tied with China. For this reason, it is no surprise that China has been excluded from the TPP Third, the TPP promises to impose “strict guidelines on environmental and labor standards”, which include wildlife-trafficking. Interestingly, the TPP proponents consist of bipartisan supporters, including Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Representative Kevin Brady, the new Ways and Means Committee Chairman, who stated that “[d]one right, this agreement will open a billion middle class customers to American goods and services.”
Although proponents are numerous, a fact which allowed for the approval of “fast-track authority” earlier this year, the President will need to convince opponents of the TPP in order to ensure passage of this agreement. Opponents, which include Presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, are concerned over various points of the TPP. First, opponents claim that the TPP will have a massive impact on a large percentage of workers around the world because it could increase competition for low-wage positions. Second, opponents are concerned over protection of intellectual property of pharmaceutical companies, which has long been ignored abroad. Proponents, however, argue that the TPP will establish uniform rules on corporations’ intellectual property.
Although, thus far, everything seems to be going right for the Obama administration’s TPP, opponents are sure to stand in the way. Notably, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch has stated that “[w]hile the details are still emerging, unfortunately I am afraid this deal appears to fall woefully short.” Whether this opposition statement stems from actual disagreement with the TPP or from dislike of the Obama administration, however, is hard to know. While opponents point to the TPP’s labor provisions as reasons to reject the TPP, other provisions seem to outweigh this potentially negative consequence. The TPP pushes for innovation, increased trade, and includes much needed protections for wildlife and the environment.
Though the TPP is sure to face intense debate in Congress, President Obama will likely do everything in his power to ensure the agreement’s passage. The approval of this massive economic agreement would cement President Obama’s place in history and would surely add to his legacy as a foreign policy-oriented President.
Jeffrey Butensky moved from Argentina to Plantation, Florida and graduated from the University of Florida with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology. He anticipates graduating from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor in Spring 2017. Although Jeff has a diverse set of legal interests including corporate law, bankruptcy, and immigration, Jeff also hopes to be involved with legislation one day.
Legislating a Disaster: Congressional and Tribal Responses to the Gold King Mine Spill
On August 5, the Animas River in La Plata County, Colorado suddenly turned a bright and unnatural shade of orange as an estimated three million gallons of toxic wastewater spilled from the abandoned Gold King Mine. Local, State, and Tribal governments scrambled to react as the wastewater brought a sudden spike in levels of arsenic, lead, and other dangerous metals. In response to the spill, access to the river has been closed indefinitely and three states (Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) and two tribes (The Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Tribe) have declared states of emergency. The wastewater spill—a result of heavy machinery usage near the mine—was ironically caused when Missouri-based EPA contractor Environmental Restoration LLC accidentally breached the mine during an attempted clean-up effort. The spill has not only caused a potentially devastating environmental impact, and put strain on already limited water resources, but also stands to curb tourism, one of the area’s largest economic sectors after the closure of the area’s once profitable mines. Acting to address the crisis, bills have been filed in the House and the Senate, which seek to hold the EPA responsible for costs and harm related to the spill. Additionally, Navajo Councilman Jonathan Hale has filed a tribal bill asking the Navajo Nation to formally adopt a resolution asking the United States President to hold the EPA responsible for the negative impacts of the spill on the Navajo Nation.
The Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015:
In response to the ongoing Gold King Mine crisis, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), along with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), introduced S.2063, the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015, on September 22. The bill would impose liability for “any damage to, or loss of, property, or a personal injury or death” under the Federal Torts Claims Act (“FTCA”) for any “injured person,” defined as any individual, tribe, state, business, or other non-Federal entity that suffered injury as a result of the Gold King Mine spill. The bill defines allowable damages under the FTCA as instances of property, business, and financial loss. The bill also waives the maximum amount limitation for FTCA claims related to the Gold King Mine spill and empowers the Administrator of the EPA to provide compensation for an FTCA claim related to the Gold King Mine spill in an amount greater than $25,000 without prior written approval of the Attorney General. The bill further instructs the EPA to create the Gold King Mine Spill Response Program, which includes monitoring and disclosure requirements related to the rivers effected by the Gold King Mine Spill. Finally, the bill would amend Title I of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 to address mining related issues by instructing the agencies in charge of aspects of the bill to assess and develop plans related to potentially dangerous mine sites and to disclose to potentially affected states, towns, and tribes before engaging in certain activities that could result in hazardous material discharge. S.2063 is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On September 24, Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), along with four co-sponsors from New Mexico and Colorado, introduced a bill substantively similar to S.2063 in the House. H.R. 3602 is currently pending before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.
Navajo Nation Bill:
In addition to Congress’s bills, the Navajo Nation is also considering legislation to address the Gold King Mine spill. Delegate Jonathan Hale, chair of the Navajo Council’s Health, Education, and
Human Services Committee, has filed a bill before the Navajo Nation Council, requesting that the Navajo Nation formally resolve to urge the President of the United States to hold the EPA accountable for their negligence. Legislation 0326-15’s background cites both the immediate harms that Navajo Nation citizens have suffered—including some Navajo citizens having to haul water hundreds of miles to avoid drinking from potentially contaminated sources on the reservation—and the uncertainty surrounding potential future harms that could serve to cause ongoing harm to the Navajo people and government for years. The bill also stresses the importance of the government-to-government relations between the US and tribal governments and the trust relationship and fiduciary duties created by the Treaty of 1849 and the Treaty of 1868. While passing this bill would not substantively change Navajo policy, it would create a strong statement from the legislative branch of Navajo government that the Nation believes the United States should accept full responsibility for the negative effects their negligence has imposed on the Navajo government and people. This bill follows other emergency legislation introduced to the Navajo Council, requesting that over a million dollars be allocated to monitoring and research related to the Gold King Mine spill.
Given the realities of election-year politics, action on the Congressional bills will likely be slow; if it happens at all. However, given the high-profile nature of the spill, it is possible that the efforts to aid the effected parties could gain traction. Notable is the close coordination between the House and the Senate on the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act. While the bills are certain to be changed during the committee process, when introduced both the House and the Senate versions of the bill were nearly identical, with only minor punctuation and word-substitution differences. Further, while the Navajo bill would not actually change any Navajo policy, an officially legislated call on President Obama to have the US government accept responsibility for the harm the EPA negligently caused on the Navajo Nation would be a strong show of political pressure. Due to the widespread harm caused by the spill, it is clear Congress needs to act. Without decisive Congressional action, cleanup efforts will be slow and litigation could drag on for years, if not decades. Additionally, while the Navajo Nation is currently limiting their approach to essentially shaming Congress into action, they should consider a more substantive push. The Navajo Nation may have openings to sue the government, and even barring that may find other more forceful approaches to ensuring their citizens are protected from the effects of the spill. While the Navajo government has devoted one million dollars to study the spill’s effects, this may fall short of actual research needs—not to mention the expensive clean-up costs. While progress remains slow for now, decisive action is needed.
For the latest information on the House and Senate bills be sure to follow their development on www.congress.gov and for the latest on Navajo Nation legislation visit http://www.navajonationcouncil.org/legislation.html.
Tyler L. Spunaugle is from Miami, Oklahoma and graduated from Dartmouth College majoring in both Philosophy and Native American Studies. Tyler is scheduled to graduate from Boston University with a Juris Doctor in Spring 2016, with active participation in two of BU's clinics. After graduation, Tyler will be working as a staff attorney for the Government Accountability Office in Washington, DC.
Pipe Dreams are a Massachusetts Nightmare: Why Bill H.3690, the Pipeline Expansion Bill, Should Not Pass
Today, New England has the second highest electricity prices in America. Hawaii ranks number one. New England fared well when hydro and coal were the energy sources of choice because of its geography and stores of coal in the region. Unfortunately, starting in the 1990s natural gas became the preferred energy source as a cleaner way to produce electricity. As a result to the new trends, in 2000, 15% of the electricity distributed was through natural gas, increasing 10% in one decade. In 2014, natural gas dependence went up to 50%, according to the New England Gas-Electric Focus Group Report of 2014. As natural gas dependence increased, demand from other means of energy production decrease. Coal powered energy plants, for example, are less popular in the energy market. As a result they are rapidly going out of business. The high demand for energy in conjunction with closing energy production plants creates a necessity for additional, reliable energy supply.
In response to the need for reliable energy sources that are affordable, some state politicians are calling for natural gas pipeline expansion. One supporter of Natural Gas Expansion is Massachusetts State Representative Garrett Bradley of the Third Plymouth District submitted bill H.3690 on behalf of Kinder Morgan. This bill seeks a permanent easement in Western Massachusetts for Kinder Morgan’s Connecticut Expansion Project. The Connecticut Expansion Project is an effort to respond to the market’s high demand for natural gas energy sources. The project plans to upgrade existing pipelines within New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The estimated $85.7 million dollar project will consist of approximately 13.49 miles of piping that will loop through small segments of those three states. Pipeline looping is when companies build pipelines adjacent and connected to existing pipelines. Looping increases the maximum amount of deliverable natural gas in the region. Further, by looping the pipes Kinder Morgan hopes to minimize environmental impacts by containing environmental disruption to areas that have already been dug up for previous pipelines. The project would loop pipeline for 3.8 miles Sandisfield, MA as well as 0.1 miles of in Agawam, MA.
When Kinder Morgan approached State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, Sandisfield’s state representative, Rep. Pignatelli refused to file the bill. He stated that he would only bring forth the bill if his constituents wanted him to. It is abundantly clear that they do not support pipeline expansion in their town. When he found out that a representative from the complete other side of Massachusetts filed the bill, Rep. Pignatelli joked that Rep. Bradley “couldn’t find Sandisfield on a map with GPS.” Other representatives negatively commented on Rep. Bradley filing a bill pertaining to towns outside of his district. Ultimately, this is not the first time that a representative filed such a bill. However it came to Beacon Hill, H.3690 is now in the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight’s hands.
If H.3690 passes, Kinder Morgan will attain the rights to build on Sandisfield land. The entitlement will be on both private property and protected state park. Article 97 of the Massachusetts
Constitution, Massachusetts’ primary conservation law, protects public state park land, including the state park in Sandisfield, from being sold or changed. Land protected under this article remains protected unless two-thirds of state congressional representatives vote to allow an easement on these lands. Massachusetts State Senator Benjamin Downing worries that the passage of H.3690 “could set a ‘dangerous’ precedent of taking Article 97 lands to build fossil fuels energy infrastructure.”
Supporters of the bill believe the project can “reduce energy costs and thereby attract new business and jobs for hard working citizens,” according to a joint statement from the six New England Governors reported. The project is expected to create 175 new construction jobs and is expected to be complete by November 2016, if all of the certifications and approvals happen on time. The pipeline expansion, Rep. Bradley stated, will immediately respond to increasing rates of energy consumption in Massachusetts and help avoid blackouts that “devastate [Massachusetts’] economy.” The New England Gas-Electricity Focus Group Final Report of 2014 confirms Rep. Bradley and his supporters’ views that it is essential to expand the pipelines, even if that means taking away privately owned and state protected land.
Already burdened with another natural gas pipeline, many Sandisfield residents are wary of the gas companies’ assurances. These residents vividly remember the 1981 Sandisfield pipeline burst that compromised the safety of their families, property, drinking water, and surrounding natural habitats. They know that pipeline expansion does not just mean cheaper energy, it also means availing themselves to even more pipeline danger. Beyond safety concerns, Sandisfield residents oppose easements on their personal properties; they resent being expected to pay taxes for land that they will not even be allowed to use due to the project gaining the rights to that land. Beyond Sandisfield, some experts speculate that these pipes are really going to be used to export gas to Canada and Europe and will not benefit New England’s prices at all. Lastly, environmentalists do not support pipeline expansion because they say pipelines leak toxins into the environment and exacerbate climate change.
The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing for the bill on November 10th 2015 that was “filled to the brim.” While many people up for the hearing, Representative Bradley was not there. Some believe that he did not show up to the hearing because he changed his mind about the bill. H.3690’s opposition highlighted the important precedent the state would set if it were to allow Massachusetts land protected by Article 97 to be used for energy projects such as this one. A statement signed by 63 environmental organizations opposing the bill was submitted during the hearing. Additionally, at least one bus full of Sandisfield residents showed up at the hearing. Energy industry and union representatives such as Kimberly Watson, president of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., testified in favor of the bill. Watson assured opponents to the bill that increased energy capacity would “help bolster system reliability and available natural gas supplies regionally… contributing to a moderation of fuel costs.” The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight has yet to publish a statement regarding the bill post hearing.
The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight must not approve of bill H.3690. A growing dependence on natural gas is not necessary and is not in Massachusetts’ best interest. For one, it is important to maintain energy source diversity in case there is a shortage or there are problems with one energy source. This state has the capacity for large-scale renewable energy production, an energy source that will diversify the energy market. Thus, instead of investing money in a short-term solution like natural gas, investing money in renewable resources will be better for the environment. Beyond environmental arguments, if the people in Massachusetts do not support the expansion of natural gas pipelines, their representatives should listen. Furthermore, the already existent renewable energy presence in Massachusetts has been creating jobs and positively impacting the state. Clean energy economy has seen rapid growth and continues to grow each year. Why not expand that environmentally safe and publicly supported energy source instead? If pipeline expansion is not the only solution to a growing energy demand problem, it does not make sense to destroy protected forestland or put Sandisfield residents’ lives at increased risk. Instead, this state needs to listen to its constituents and the statistics that say that investing in renewable energy expansion is the better choice to address growing energy needs.
Lillian Feinberg is from Leominster Massachusetts and graduated cum laude from The George Washington University. She majored in English literature with minors in health and journalism. Lillian is expected to graduate from Boston University with a Juris Doctor in spring 2017. With interests in legislation, policy, energy law, and health law, Lillian looks forward to moving to Washington D.C. after graduation to pursue her policy interests.