Action alert: Thu June 4 – Northampton City Council will consider resolution concerning natural gas infrastructure
By MARTY NATHAN in the Hampshire Daily Gazette
NORTHAMPTON — Psychological warfare is being waged in Massachusetts towns as natural gas local Distribution Companies (LDCs) declare moratoria on new subscribers until the building of Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct (NED, also known as the Tennessee Gas) Pipeline is agreed upon.
Every day for months I have been seeing Berkshire Gas ads explaining its policy of preventing new gas hookups, citing “pipeline capacity constraints” limiting gas availability. My understanding of gas supply is fuzzy, though I suspected from the first that any time pipelines are being mentioned by energy companies in western Massachusetts, Kinder Morgan is probably behind the curtain.
Then a couple of weeks ago I heard mention by a Northampton official that barriers to new gas hookups are hindering development of key projects in the town.
The moratorium strategy is being adopted not just by Berkshire Gas in Franklin County and in Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield, but as well by Columbia Gas in Easthampton and Northampton. The Hampshire County towns for both companies are all fed by the Northampton Lateral of another Tennessee Gas pipeline in southern Massachusetts.
Thus the new Pleasant Street affordable housing project in Northampton, much needed by our community to serve low income people, is being stalled, as is the opening and expansion of small businesses in this lurching recovery from the Great Recession.
To what purpose?
These two LDCs have applied to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to bless contracts (whose details and pricing are secret) to acquire natural gas from the Northeast Direct which, if built, will pass from Wright, New York, to Dracut. Columbia Gas has said that it needs 114,000 dekatherms/day to replace existing contracts that it plans to get out of and to cover projected growth.
It says that without the new NED gas delivery, its customers will suffer from shortages.
The problem is that the only consumer demand that Columbia is looking at is that occurring on “design” or peak demand days — in the middle of the winter, when the furnace in every house is chugging and electrical output, much based now on the burning of natural gas, is high.
Though never explicitly stated in their filings or press releases, yearly peak days can be counted on the fingers of one hand. On all other days, supply well-surpasses demand.
On design days there are alternatives — either shipped in or locally stored liquefied natural gas or gas bought on the open market, which can and should be a part of any distributer’s plan. In Amherst, specific temporary stopgap measures have been proposed for the design days, till long-term answers have been implemented.
A similar analysis could be done for all the other affected towns.
Yet Columbia, Berkshire and Cape Gas companies have ignored those options and thrown their lot in with Kinder Morgan, stating that the building of the pipeline is necessary for energy security for the Commonwealth. This is convenient for Kinder Morgan, which must make a case for such need: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to whom it has applied for permission to build the pipeline requires that there be local (i.e. Massachusetts) service provision in order to OK the project.
The truth is, though, that the main market for the NED fracked gas is overseas. From Dracut it will be sent to Nova Scotia and then across the Atlantic. There simply is not enough demand in the U.S. to absorb the enormous amount of frackable gas in the Marcellus Shale and prices (and therefore profits) have plummeted.
Critics in the know say the LDCs projections of local demand are phony, that Columbia Gas is choosing to break other contracts to substitute the NED and overstating the growth in regional demand. They hold that companies are vastly understating the amount of gas that could be saved by truly aggressive energy efficiency methods and conversion to renewables.
Just plugging the leaks in Boston’s old gas pipes alone could save 41,000 dekatherms a day. No one has yet studied Springfield or Holyoke, both cities served by Columbia Gas.
The distributors then back up their narrative of unmet local need with the moratorium, creating a crisis that threatens community development and punishes towns, many of whom have taken a stand against the environmentally destructive NED. The moratorium is being implemented unilaterally and without oversight. It verges on extortion of the communities Columbia and Berkshire Gas are by law dedicated to serve.
It is very important that we do not submit, but that we soberly assess the benefits and harms of new carbon infrastructure like the NED in a time when there must be a profound energy shift to conservation and renewables.
No matter what Columbia and Berkshire Gas say, the $5.5 billion to build this destructive dinosaur would be better spent in effecting that shift.
Marty Nathan, M.D., is a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center and a member of Climate Action NOW. She lives in Northampton.
Are you wanting to get more active around the issue of Climate Change? Here are some ideas to get you started or keep you going. These suggestions are brought to you by Molly Hale of the Climate Action Group of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence.
Personal: Summer days with the sun high overhead are perfect for experimenting with a solar cooker. Save energy, use during power outages (if it’s sunny!) and keep the kitchen cooler in the summer. Many inexpensive designs are available to make your own at http://solarcooking.org/plans/
Community: Learn Bicycling Street Smarts & Basic Maintenance Repair from Ruthy Woodring of Pedal People in Florence MA. Learn how to navigate traffic confidently, use a bicycle for practical transportation year-round, dress comfortably, and carry things effectively; learn basic repair skills: fixing flats, adjustments, what tools to carry, etc. Two 2-hour classes on consecutive Sundays (ongoing). The cost is a sliding scale from $0 to $40. Bartering arrangements are possible. Bicycles can be provided. Even better, organize some friends to attend together. To set up a date, contact Ruthy by e-mail or call 413-586-8031
State/National/Global: Consider throwing your early support of time and money behind the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. He is likely to be the strongest candidate by far when it comes to serious action on climate. Here’s a quotation from theweek.com (5/5/2015): When asked to sketch his plan for a climate policy, the Vermont senator said: “It would look like a tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized; it would be putting substantial money into rail, both passenger and cargo, so we can move towards breaking our dependency on automobiles. And it would be leading other countries around the world.”
Inform Yourself: Visit your local bookstore and spend some time browsing the books on climate change. What grabs your interest? What inspires or motivates you?
I’m Representative Stephen Kulik, and I represent the First Franklin District in Western Massachusetts. My district includes 2 communities that are served by Berkshire Gas Company and 6 communities where the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline would be located. I have filed a joint petition with the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast to intervene in this proceeding. We are represented by counsel, but I would like to say a few words on behalf of my constituents. Many of them are following this proceeding closely but are unable to travel to Boston today. I do thank the DPU for scheduling a public hearing on this issue next month in Greenfield, so that people in Franklin County will be able to express their opinions on this proposed Agreement.
My constituents deserve answers about this proposed Agreement, and about Berkshire Gas’s overall business plans.
When I hear that Berkshire Gas says – right on its ratepayers’ bills – that its moratorium in my district will remain in place until Kinder Morgan’s pipeline is “permitted and built,” I see failure in the company’s planning process as the most charitable explanation for the situation my constituents are facing. Many question whether the moratorium is really necessary. So do I.
When Berkshire Gas implies that this pipeline is the only way to meet the company’s needs, I am reminded of the 1970s, when Boston was facing a water shortage crisis. The state approved a plan to build a pipeline to divert millions of gallons of water a day from the Connecticut River into the Quabbin Reservoir to meet Boston’s needs. When the Connecticut River Diversion was first proposed, it seemed like the only viable solution, but people from across western Massachusetts and Connecticut came together and asked questions. They pushed for a study of alternatives. Ultimately, thanks to leak repair, conservation, and demand management programs, the Connecticut River Diversion plan was abandoned, and today, the metropolitan Boston area uses less water than it did in the 1970s. And the solution cost less money than the diversion project would have cost.
I like to believe that we are as innovative today as we were back then. I believe that a rigorous examination of the alternatives can yield a better solution than the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Older gas furnaces are only about 65% efficient; new ones are up to 98% efficient. Shouldn’t we increase incentives for efficiency and conservation? Why not create jobs by replacing old furnaces with modern, efficient ones or non-gas alternatives before we consider building a new pipeline? Shouldn’t we put hundreds of people to work insulating every residence, business, public building, and factory in Berkshire Gas territory before we consider importing millions more cubic feet per day of a potent greenhouse gas? Why aren’t we creating jobs by fixing all the leaks in Berkshire Gas’s distribution system before anyone considers building a new pipeline?
People in the towns I represent also urge decision-makers here in Boston to consider how a new interstate pipeline changes rural communities. Once a pipeline is in place, it becomes the logical corridor for more industrial infrastructure, more compressor stations, and more gas-fired power plants.
Western Massachusetts is blessed with some of the best farmland, abundant pristine drinking-water aquifers, wildlife, and outdoor recreation – some of the most precious natural resources of our Commonwealth. There is a real fear that, beyond the immediate destruction the Kinder Morgan pipeline would cause for affected landowners, the pipeline would forever alter the rural character of our communities and the quality of our lives. I have spent many years in the legislature fighting to protect and preserve land in my district and throughout the Commonwealth. Approving this Precedent Agreement would be a step towards unraveling the protections that are in place, with no guarantee of any local economic benefit.
Costs to ratepayers of this proposed Agreement should be compared to the alternatives. All costs and all alternatives should be thoroughly evaluated. Many people analyzing the proposed build out of gas infrastructure have concluded that the Kinder Morgan pipeline would ultimately cause gas bills to rise, not fall. And costs on utility bills are not the only costs that would be borne in my district and across the Commonwealth if this Agreement is approved and this pipeline is built. Therefore, I urge the DPU to very carefully and thoughtfully look at the big picture of our state’s energy policy and future, and to look upon this precedent agreement with all of its potential impacts in mind. Thank you.
Earth Matters: Climate change: A local group takes on a global issue
The year 2014 was the warmest ever recorded. Every region of the United States except Hawaii has seen more extreme precipitation episodes in the last 10 years, led by the Northeast with a stunning 71 percent increase.
This past winter’s snowfall records in Boston and elsewhere are consistent with climate predictions that warmer ocean temperatures feed storms with moisture, causing the blizzards and heavy rains we’ve been experiencing
Whether it’s flooding in the Northeast or drought in the Southwest, climate change is affecting all of us. This is the “new normal.” Although the science has been clear, world leaders have spent the last quarter-century doing little to address the crisis. We now have a small window of time left to prevent climate catastrophe. The U.N. Environment Program says we need to reach “net zero carbon” by century’s end — this will probably require stopping almost all fossil fuel usage worldwide by around 2050. To succeed, we need to start cutting back right now.
One heartening development is the rise of grassroots groups of people across the country and around the world discovering ways to prevent climate chaos and create positive and equitable solutions. The Valley is home to Climate Action NOW (CAN), a diverse grassroots community of people connected by our passion to preserve a livable world and create a more just society. We work to build coalitions that inspire, educate and organize individuals and groups working on climate change issues.
CAN serves as the Pioneer Valley branch of 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future (350Mass), a volunteer-led statewide climate action network. Central to this movement is a call for a drastic and immediate reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
This requires a fundamental global shift in how we produce and use energy. We have our work cut out for us, because we are contending with powerful and wealthy interests, including multinational energy corporations whose profits depend on continuing the extraction and use of fossil fuels.
There’s a place for everyone in this global surge to create meaningful change in the window of time we have left. To be successful, we need as many people as possible to step up.
Here in the Valley there are many vehicles for getting involved:
Building a sustainable energy future for Massachusetts.
We are organizing for a clean, renewable energy future while we join with others to stop fossil fuel infrastructure expansion in Massachusetts and beyond through the ReNEWable Massachusetts project. We are working to promote local control of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and conservation in order to reduce or eliminate the need for fossil fuel-based energy.
We’ve also organized opposition, including non-violent civil disobedience, to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will greatly increase global CO2 emissions from dirty tar sands oil. Tar sands exploitation also threatens indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.
CAN/350Mass helps organize community efforts for a climate action plan in your town or city to oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure (pipelines or power plants) and to shift town and faith communities’ energy sources to 100% renewable.
Demanding divestment from fossil fuels.
From students calling for their universities to divest endowments, to faith communities and state workers calling for cutting institutional ties to corporations profiting from fossil fuels, the divestment movement is a global and growing force with institutions committing to remove these investments from their stock portfolios. CAN/350Mass will help you develop and promote resolutions in your town or faith group to divest from fossil fuels. We’re also supporting state legislation to divest the state pension fund from fossil fuels.
The Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.
CAN is a founding member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, which brings together diverse groups to fight for climate justice in Springfield. Our current focus is ensuring that the city fully implements its Climate Action Plan. We’re working to ensure that the plan reflects the needs of those most affected by pollution and the impacts of climate change.
A fair price for carbon.
Most economists agree that putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce the emissions that cause global warming. One path toward this goal is to end fossil fuel subsidies by having our state legislature approve a fair and equitable fee and rebate program. The state legislature is considering two bills to put a price on carbon. The Massachusetts Campaign for a Clean Energy Future — a broad coalition including business, labor, civic and environmental groups — is currently facilitating a statewide dialogue so the best legislation will emerge; CAN is an active participant.
Arts and media.
CAN is looking for people to work on street theater, giant puppets, music and art so we can bring our passion to the streets and public art to our actions. We also need people with media skills to help with our weekly online newsletter, and our presence on the web, in print and on social media.
Climate change is happening, but together we can prevent catastrophe. If you’re ready to get involved, together we CAN make a difference.
Visit climateactionnowma.org for more information about CAN and to sign up for their weekly newsletter, focusing on local news and actions. CAN’s general meetings are held on the fourth Monday of the month; all are welcome.
Visit 350mass.betterfutureproject.org for more information about the statewide organization and to sign up for their weekly newsletter, covering actions across the state.
Susan Théberge is a founder and Steering Committee member of Climate Action NOW! and the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition and is active in 350MASS, serving on the statewide Steering Team and ReNEWable Mass Campaign group.
Darcy DuMont is a retired lawyer and teacher, and is a leader in the state fossil fuel divestment effort.
This is the third in a series of recent Earth Matters columns on climate change. The previous articles appeared online on March 13 and 27. For links to those columns, visit www.hitchcockcenter.org/category/earth-matters/.
Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 525 South Pleasant St., Amherst, appears every other week. For more information go to www.hitchcockcenter.org, call 256-6006 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday, May 16, at its annual meeting, the Northampton Democratic City Committee unanimously endorsed a resolution calling on the Massachusetts legislature to pass a carbon fee and rebate bill to cut emissions by placing a state fee on fossil fuel energy entering the state. An important aspect of this resolution is that it supports both carbon pricing bills currently in the legislature. This is consistent with the statewide coalition of environmental, community, labor and business groups which is seeking at this point in time to build broad support for the concept of carbon pricing. Members and affiliates of the coalition, named the MA Campaign for a Clean Energy Future, have obtained endorsements from 15 town committees. The coalition is seeking support from both Democratic and Republican organizations.
The resolution reads:
“We, the Northampton Democratic City Committee, urge the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pass legislation that combats climate change by placing charges on the carbon content of fossil fuels and returns the money to residents and employers. Specifically, we commend State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) for drafting and submitting, ‘An Act Combating Climate Change’ and Sen. Marc Pacheco for drafting and submitting ‘An Act to Protect Our Environment and Reduce the Carbon Footprint of the Commonwealth.’ We strongly encourage our State Senators and Representatives, and our Governor, to make carbon pricing the law of our state.”
Tonight, AMHERST TOWN MEETING PASSES RESOLUTION CONCERNING TGP PIPELINE
Text of the resolution:
WHEREAS, a proposed high pressure pipeline carrying natural gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing (“fracked gas”), currently called the ‘Northeast Energy Direct’ project, of Kinder Morgan / Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, L.L.C. (the “TGP Pipeline”), would run through many communities in western Massachusetts;
WHEREAS, additional plans for other such new or expanded fracked gas pipelines have been proposed for other locations in the Commonwealth;
WHEREAS, the New England governors previously proposed a utility bill tariff or tax to help pay for new pipeline construction, which would have required ratepayers to invest in more fossil fuel infrastructure, although the prior Massachusetts administration stepped back from that proposal;
WHEREAS, in addition to the inherent risks of high pressure gas pipelines – possible ruptures, fires and explosions, and possible impacts to sensitive areas along the pipeline route – fracked gas may carry additional risks of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemicals; recognizing as well the added environmental burdens for communities that are the site of the fracking;
WHEREAS, there is growing concern regarding the impact of methane, the main component of natural gas, on global climate change, from gas leaks at drilling sites and along pipelines, in addition to the impact of the carbon dioxide produced when the gas is burned;
WHEREAS, instead of increasing our dependency on fossil fuels like natural gas, we are better served by embracing and strengthening the Commonwealth’s commitments to combating global climate change through increased energy efficiency and renewable energy; and
WHEREAS, the Town of Amherst has a direct interest in protecting public health, public land and the environment in the Pioneer Valley, the Commonwealth, New England and our shared world;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Town of Amherst through its Representative Town Meeting: 1. Opposes the construction of the proposed TGP Pipeline and any such new or expanded pipelines carrying fracked gas in the Commonwealth; 2. Opposes any tariffs that may be imposed on Massachusetts ratepayers to fund the TGP Pipeline or other such new or expanded fracked gas pipelines; 3. Stands in solidarity with communities opposing the TGP Pipeline and other such pipelines; and 4. Asks that our state and federal representatives and the Governor oppose the TGP Pipeline and any other such new or expanded pipelines carrying fracked gas in the Commonwealth and oppose any tariffs or taxes that may be imposed on ratepayers to fund any of the same; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town Clerk shall, five days after the dissolution of Town Meeting, forward a copy of this resolution and the vote thereon to Governor Charlie Baker, President of the Senate Stanley Rosenberg, State Representative Ellen Story, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Edward Markey, Congressman James McGovern, and the chair and commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Climate Action NOW/350MASS monthly gathering! Mon, May 18 in Amherst.
We have a small window of time in which to preserve life as we know it. Now is the time to get involved in building a huge and unstoppable grassroots movement with the power to create the changes we need to successfully address the magnitude of the climate crisis.
As we continue to grow and work in new areas we need more people. We welcome newcomers and we would love to support you in finding your place in this work, honoring your time and life constraints while helping you figure out how to match your skills and talents with the multitude of things that need to be done.
To change everything we need everyone!
Find out how you can get involved by joining us on Monday evening. We will provide quick updates about upcoming actions and current projects and will spend time actively working in small groups to get things done. We will spend time in the whole group and in breakout groups on the following areas of action:
Divesting from fossil fuels
Stopping fracked gas pipelines
Shifting Massachusetts to a state in which clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency take priority
Helping to plan local forums focused on local, democratic, accessible models for clean and sustainable energy production and distribution
Planning for the statewide actions to publicly launch the ReNEWable MASS campaign
Preparing for important regional and national actions including the Beyond Extreme Energy week of actions aimed at FERC
Putting a fair price on carbon.
Creating rapid responses to media that challenge the dominant corporate narrative
When: Monday, May 18th at 7 PM
Where: Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst
121 N Pleasant St, Amherst, MA 01004 (on a bus route and handicap accessible)
Photo by Rene Theberge.
If you’re interested in working with us to get Fair Carbon Pricing legislation passed, join us at the next Climate Action Now general meeting. Monday May 18, 7-9 pm at the Unitarian Society in Amherst.
Petition: we now have a hard-copy petition that’s easy for you to obtain online! This is a great way for you to engage people in conversations about carbon pricing. Read the entire petition here: http://tinyurl.com/Fair-Carbon-Pricing-Petition. This is a fully self-service petition! Anyone can copy it off the web, gather signatures wherever you’d like, and when you’ve finished just return signed pages to the address listed at the end. There are spaces for email addresses and phone numbers on the petition but they’re optional. Read more about the petition here.
The petition is addressed to Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. It calls on the State of Massachusetts to put a price on global warming pollution and emphasizes holding polluters accountable; reducing reliance on fossil fuels; protecting vulnerable populations from negative impacts that could result from carbon pricing; achieving the Global Warming Solutions Act targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020; and to create a safe and sustainable future for future generations.
Building Support: The MA Campaign for a Clean Energy Future is making good progress building support for Fair Carbon Pricing legislation. A highlight of this effort is collaboration between 350 Massachusetts and Climate XChange to identify key legislators from both parties and mobilize constituents to enlist their support. Read more about this effort here.
We now have an online tool that lists key legislators, “point people” across the state (activists responsible to coordinate communications with them) and local organizations in their districts. With this tool we’ll be able to mobilize people across Massachusetts to focus on key legislators, organize actions, and track what’s being done. In the Pioneer Valley, we’re continuing to build alliances and educate people about the issues. Highlights include a recent presentation at a meeting of the Progressive Democrats of America in Northampton, and collaborating with Longmeadow activists on a forum to be held on June 4 (details to follow in the next Newsletter). You can learn more about these activities and how you can participate at the next Climate Action Now general meeting on May 18.
Shaping Legislation: While there is broad agreement about the key principles that will shape the legislation, there are strategies to be worked out that will determine how the legislation is actually implemented. Recently, there has been an in-depth online discussion providing a great deal of useful information about the details underlying these potential strategies. Over the next several weeks we’ll be editing this discussion and will make this available when it’s finished.