Grassroots Organizing Key to Stopping Columbia Gas Pipeline

We won the impossible fight!

On October 11, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts announced that it would abandon its plan to build a 12-inch gas pipeline from West Springfield to the edge of Holyoke to provide an “alternate backfeed” of gas to Holyoke Gas and Electric. Building the pipe would have meant Holyoke would no longer need to rely on the Northampton Lateral pipe that brings gas to Northampton and Easthampton. 

The company has said that on the coldest days of winter the Northampton Lateral is at peak and it imposed a moratorium on new and expanded gas hookups for Northampton and Easthampton to limit demand. HG&E more recently applied its own moratorium for Holyoke. 

We are all learning from impeachment coverage about the meaning of “quid pro quo” and Columbia Gas had promised that, should the new 6-mile pipeline be built at the cost of over $20 million for consumers, they would lift the moratorium. 

Many folks in our region, particularly those in what would become the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign, recognized at the time the proposal was made that we face a climate emergency and our central task to sustain life on earth is to cut carbon emissions from the leaking and burning of fossil fuels. 

We saw the Columbia Gas plan as antithetical to that task. Gas is not a bridge fuel: when methane leaks throughout its drilling and delivery are counted, its climate toll is at least as heavy as coal. The new pipeline would mean more gas delivered to our area and more greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere to heat up our world.

However, at the time that we took up the fight, the reality of climate change was not being factored into most of our country’s energy decisions. When we took our case to some of our savviest politicians, we found that those externalized costs – the public health burden of air pollution, advancement of climate change – were only hesitantly being considered in municipal energy choices. 

The “business as usual” rut – naturally we would use “cheap” (for the moment) gas to heat our homes and businesses and cook our food – was deep. It took a real leap on behalf of the City Council of Northampton, but its members ultimately voted unanimously not to take the deal Columbia Gas was offering.

Instead it chose to plot a new path within the boundaries of the moratorium instead of accepting the offer of the new pipeline. That new approach focused on conservation and conversion to efficient electric heat-pumps and stoves to be powered increasingly by a grid fueled by wind, solar and hydro.

Northampton’s resolution against the pipeline was courageous, and it reset the bar for standards for energy investment. Its passage was influenced, of course, by the explosions in Lawrence the week before, which demonstrated better than any oral argument the other dangers inherent in gas pipelines. 

Northampton’s refusal paved the way for Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse to rise as a climate defender, when he declared that Holyoke, too, would accept the moratorium rather than support the new pipeline.

His stance was in some ways bolder even than that of Northampton. He did not necessarily have the support of his City Council, yet he cited the asthma rates of his constituents and the suffering already felt by the many climate refugees to his city from Hurricane Maria’s destruction in Puerto Rico. He was backed by Neighbor to Neighbor Holyoke as he took his stand.

With no city clearly demanding the pipeline, the writing was on the wall, and Columbia’s decision was inevitable.  It was an historic victory, won by people of principle and vision. 

But the fight is not done. There are still four other parts to the Columbia “Reliability” plan. The upgrade of the Agawam Compressor Station should be unnecessary with the collapse of the pipeline plan to Holyoke. The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the North East, has filed a letter with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission demanding reassessment of the MA Department of Public Utility’s approval of the contract for this investment. 

Columbia Gas and its partner Tennessee Gas Pipeline are still planning to build a metering station near a Longmeadow elementary school and an enlarged pipeline through Longmeadow into Springfield. The group Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group (LPAG) and Arise for Social Justice have carried out a hard-hitting battle to stop this construction.  

LPAG and Arise are members of the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign as is Neighbor to Neighbor and Climate Action Now. We will continue to vigorously support this continuing struggle. 

For our future, we must stop the construction of all new fossil fuel infrastructure and put our resources into conservation and renewables. 

Marty Nathan MD 413-531-9915