Anti-pipeline group PLAN-NE to sue Mass. Dept. of Public Utilities for cutting them out of talks

Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) and PLAN-NE President Kathryn Eiseman, a lawyer by training, standing near the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline route in rural Plainfield, Massachusetts. (Mary Serreze photo)

By Mary Serreze | Special to The Republican on September 19, 2015 at 9:00 AM, updated September 19, 2015 at 2:03 PM

A regional coalition fighting the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline known as Northeast Energy Direct says it will appeal three recent decisions by the Mass. Dept. of Public Utilities which denied the group full legal standing in pipeline-related deliberations.

In June the DPU denied Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast (PLAN-NE) full intervenor status in proceedings focused on three Massachusetts utilities which seek capacity on the proposed pipeline.

The DPU instead granted PLAN-NE "limited participant" status, meaning they could receive limited information and attend hearings, but could not compel testimony or see unredacted documents.

On Aug. 31 the DPU approved the three "precedent agreements" allowing Boston Gas Company (National Grid), Bay State Gas Company (Columbia Gas), and Berkshire Gas Company a combined .3 billion cubic feet per day from the Kinder Morgan line.

PLAN-NE president Kathryn Eiseman said the group will appeal the DPU's rulings on intervenor status with the state's Supreme Judicial Court, charging that the denial of full standing to stakeholders is "entirely unprecedented, and runs counter to previous decisions by the agency."

PLAN-NE represents municipalities, state legislators, businesses, commercial and residential ratepayers, environmental and consumer advocacy organizations, and concerned citizens, she said. The DPU ruled that PLAN-NE was not "substantially and specifically affected" by the proposed contracts. 

Eiseman said the rulings amounted to an "abuse of discretion by the DPU" and that "there is no justification for limiting full public participation in these important cases. We cannot let these rulings stand."

The news comes on the heels of an announcement by the Conservation Law Foundation that it will fight the three precedent agreements between Kinder Morgan and Berkshire Gas, Columbia Gas, and National Grid. That appeal of three DPU rulings was filed with the Supreme Judicial Court earlier this week.

Pipeline foes have charged that Northeast Energy Direct, planned at 1.3 billion cubic feet per day, is being sized to serve export markets, and that Kinder Morgan is seeking the local agreements to justify local need in its dealings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has jurisdiction over the project's approval.

Kinder Morgan has responded that no contracts are in place with developers of liquefied natural gas export facilities, and that federal regulations prohibit the company from discriminating among customers based on the destination or use of the gas.

In June the DPU also denied intervenor status to Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) in the Berkshire Gas proceeding. Four towns in Kulik's district are in Berkshire Gas' service territory, and six municipalities in his district are along the proposed pipeline path.

Kulik has called the local contracts the "building blocks" of federal pipeline approval and said there are ways to meet Massachusetts' natural gas needs without building the line.

Kulik will join PLAN-NE in the appeal of the Berkshire Gas decision.

Kulik this month filed legislation to change the rules for intervening in DPU proceedings, saying "municipalities and legislators should not have to go to court to exercise the right to participate at the DPU in proceedings concerning our constituents' utilities."

Berkshire Gas and Columbia Gas last winter placed moratoriums on any new or expanded gas service, citing pipeline bottlenecks. Berkshire Gas, whose parent company UIL Hoidings plan an investment in the proposed pipeline, has stated that the moratorium will be in place until the project is built.

In August, Senate President Stan Rosenberg wrote to Berkshire Gas CEO Karen Zink asking her to lift the moratorium and advising her to find an alternative plan for servicing customers in Western Massachusetts in case FERC does not approve the pipeline.

Berkshire Gas would access the pipeline through a proposed metering station in Deerfield.

Rosenberg recently held a Greenfield hearing to collect public input on the Kinder Morgan proposal and will deliver the testimony to FERC in Washington on Sept. 30. Rosenberg has not taken a stand on the merits of the pipeline but has called for a comprehensive public process.

The pipeline plan, which would cross 29 Massachusetts communities, with 16 in Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, has inspired vigorous opposition in the western part of the state. 

Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said Friday that the DPU's recent rulings are "thoughtful, substantive and well-supported by the record" and that increasing New England's natural gas supply will "lower consumers' electric and gas bills, dramatically reduce carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, and provide essential support for increased use of renewable energy sources."

He added that "professional plaintiffs' organizations" such as the Conservation Law Foundation "will continue to fight every energy project, because that is how they make their money."

Mary Serreze can be reached at