Western Massachusetts conservationists jubilant, cautious over pipeline’s demise

From MassLive: Land conservationists, climate activists and elected officials responded with jubilation and caution after Kinder Morgan announcement.


The pipeline would have carried natural gas from Pennsylvania to markets in New England.

The Athol-based Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust holds preserved land that would be crossed by the pipeline. Director Leigh Youngblood said she is relieved "not to have the specter of blasting and bulldozers looming." She praised landowners who stood for "upholding property rights against access for pipeline surveys," while cautioning pipeline foes to "remain vigilant."

Rosemary Wessell, director of No Fracked Gas in Mass, said while the suspension of the NED pipeline represents a "hard-won victory and tremendous relief" for property owners and communities, Massachusetts and the Northeast "are still not out of the woods."

"We've said all along that this massive pipeline project didn't make economic sense, and sends us in the wrong direction as far as where our energy system needs to be heading," said Katy Eiseman, director of Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast. "But there is still work to do."

State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, said Kinder Morgan's decision is "good news, but only if followed by leadership at the state level to meet our energy needs in a manner consistent with our climate goals."

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said he felt "privileged to stand with so many brave people who have opposed this project since its inception, including landowners, environmentalists, and courageous local officials in small towns who chose to take a stand."

Kulik said that Berkshire Gas, a local firm whose parent company, Avangrid, has a financial stake in the pipeline, should "immediately lift its moratorium on new hookups." Berkshire, which halted new service in eight Pioneer Valley towns last year citing pipeline constraints, can meet the region's needs by "increasing liquefied natural gas supplies, fixing the leaks and improving its delivery system," he said.

A Berkshire Gas spokesman said Wednesday it would not lift its moratorium until a "permanent solution" is found and rejected calls from Kulik and Senate President Rosenberg to find a "Plan B."

A lawyer for the coalition Northeast Energy Solutions said Berkshire Gas has a conflict of interest as both an investor and customer of the now-defunct pipeline. "Berkshire Gas must now return to its customers, and explain that in fact, enough capacity exists in the region to provide for their energy needs," said Vincent DeVito, of Bowditch & Dewey.

Berkshire's parent company said Wednesday the moratorium would stay in place until a 'permanent solution' can be found.

DeVito said the pipeline's economic failure came as no surprise. "We sent a three-page letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more than a year ago questioning the financial viability of the proposed project," said Vincent DeVito, a partner with Bowditch & Dewey.

Kulik said the project failed for economic reasons, and that Kinder Morgan "made the only wise decision they could."

Caution expressed by pipeline foes

Leaders of the anti-pipeline movement said Thursday that consumers and property owners should stay engaged.

Eiseman said Eversource Energy and National Grid still think Massachusetts electric ratepayers should foot the bill for new natural gas pipelines. The funding mechanism, approved by state utility regulators in October, has been appealed by the Conservation Law Foundation, and the state's Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments in the matter May 5.

Eiseman and others remarked that Spectra Energy still plans its Access Northeast pipeline in the eastern part of the state.

Wessell noted that Kinder Morgan's Connecticut Expansion, a 14-mile Tennessee Gas pipeline in three states that would cut through the Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, has been approved by federal regulators and is still on the table. She said a landmark court case related to that project "will set an important precedent."

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. in March sued Massachusetts for an easement through the forest, and competing arguments were heard in Berkshire Superior Court last week. The conflict hinges upon whether Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which requires legislative approval for the transfer of conservation land, can trump the U.S. Natural Gas Act, which grants eminent domain powers to companies building interstate natural gas pipelines.

"We'll continue engaging in the fight not only for the sake of Otis State Forest, the people of Sandisfield, but also for the sovereignty of our state constitution," Wessell said.

"One down, one to go," said Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox. Pignatelli was also referring to Kinder Morgan's Connecticut Expansion and its potential threat to the state forest, which is in his district.

Mass Power Forward, a coalition of environmental groups including 350 Massachusetts, Toxics Action Center, and StopNED issued a joint statement Wednesday. "The death knell of the disastrous and irresponsible Kinder Morgan gas pipeline gives Bay State communities an opportunity to choose a clean energy future," said Joel Wool of Clean Water Action.

Jack Clarke, director of public policy for Mass Audubon, said the land conservation organization is "thrilled Kinder Morgan decided to suspend its Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project through Massachusetts and over 100 parcels of protected conservation land."

"This pipeline was the wrong infrastructure, carrying the wrong fuel, through the wrong state, at the wrong time," said Clarke. "The days of dependence on fossil fuels are closing as Massachusetts turns its attention to clean renewable sources of energy such as wind, hydro and solar."

Mass Audubon in 2007 acted quickly to help the state preserve 900 acres of the Otis State Forest, including the pristine Lower Spectacle Pond. The organization filed a legal brief supporting the office of Attorney General Maura Healey in the Berkshire Superior Court case.

Others who commented on the demise of Northeast Energy Direct include U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. James McGovern; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Attorney General Maura Healey; and state Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who referred to the news as a "game changer" and called upon Berkshire Gas to enact "Plan B" and lift its moratorium.

"If we pass no bill, we are going to be creating an enormous problem for the people of Massachusetts," Baker told reporters.

Governor Charlie Baker told The Republican on Thursday that Kinder Morgan's suspension of the major pipeline project makes it more urgent to pass an energy bill that increases the use of new hydroelectric power and new wind power in Massachusetts.

"If we pass no bill, we are going to be creating an enormous problem for the people of Massachusetts and the people of New England," Baker said.

Mary Serreze can be reached at mserreze@gmail.com