Pipe Dreams are a Massachusetts Nightmare: Why Bill H.3690, the Pipeline Expansion Bill, Should Not Pass

in Opinion, State Legislation
January 28th, 2016

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

The Massachusetts State House Boston, 1787

The Massachusetts State House
Boston, 1787

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.

LillyLillian 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.