Monthly Archives: May 2017

Citizens confront MA DEP over alleged collusion with Spectra/Enbridge on Atlantic Bridge

No Fracked Gas in Mass May 25 Newsletter

Many affected by the Spectra / Enbridge expansion of their Algonquin pipeline system (Atlantic Bridge, Access Northeast and the AIM West Roxbury Lateral), have been following the reporting of Itai Vardi of DeSmogBlog. Revelations from his May 18th article, “Massachusetts Let Spectra Energy Secretly Edit its Pollution Permit in Atlantic Bridge Gas Project”, has stirred the already active opposition to Atlantic Bridge to take their complaints directly to the MA DEP.

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On Monday, a group stormed the MA DEP offices, arriving unannounced to make  statements of grievances over the process and demanding a meeting with officials.

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On Tuesday, they met with department officials to get their objections on record, along with a request for the air quality permit for the Weymouth Compressor Station to be revoked, and an independent review conducted.

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And on Wednesday evening, they protested along Bridge Street, near the compressor site. With the fast pace of public push-back, information on upcoming protests and actions against Atlantic Bridge and it’s Weymouth compressor station is most reliably found on the Families Against Spectra/Enbridge (FAS/E) Facebook page or South Coast Neighbors United.
Next, a Community Meeting on Air Pollution is planned for Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in which Dr. Curt Nordgaard and others will be presenting information gained from independent testing of the future compressor station site, and citing conflicts with the data reported by both DEP and Spectra.
TUESDAY — MAY 30, 2017 — QUINCY, MA

From NoCompressor.com:
Due to the lack of local testing by Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), we took it upon ourselves to measure the current levels of pollution, such as benzene and formaldehyde, in the Fore River Basin. We worked with a local testing laboratory to gather data in and around the the proposed compressor site. FRRACS and the North Weymouth Civic Association also purchased formaldehyde testing badges that were analyzed by a certified testing laboratory.The data that we have collected conflicts with both MassDEP’s and Spectra’s data. Dr. Curt Nordgaard, who has been leading the
testing for the past year, will be presenting the data.

At the meeting, we will explain the testing, how it relates to the station, and what the results mean. We have invited local elected officials, as well as representatives from MassDEP, in the hopes that they will engage in an open dialogue about our concerns related to public health in our communities.
6:30 PM
Fore River Clubhouse
16 Nevada Road
Quincy, MA

» RSVP for the Facebook event here


BACKGROUND NEWS:
• Massachusetts Let Spectra Energy Secretly Edit its Pollution Permit in Atlantic Bridge Gas Project
By Itai Vardi, DeSmogBlog
May 18, 2017
Massachusetts environmental officials allowed Spectra Energy to quietly review and edit a draft approval of an air pollution permit the state plans to grant the company for its Atlantic Bridge gas project.
• State OKs waterways permit for gas compressor station in Weymouth
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
May 18, 2017
• South Shore Residents Protest Compressor Station In Weymouth
by Bill Sheilds, WBZ-TV
May 22, 2017

The proposal would put the new compressor station next to the Fore River Bridge in Weymouth. WBZ-TV’s Bill Shields reports.
• Massachusetts Admits to ‘Regularly’ Allowing Companies to Edit Draft Pollution Permits
By Itai Vardi, DeSmog Blog
May 23, 2017
This admission follows DeSmog’s reporting on emails showing the state had quietly provided Spectra Energy (now Enbridge) several opportunities to edit a draft pollution approval permit for a compressor station in the town of Weymouth as part of its Atlantic Bridge gas project.
Following these revelations, concerned citizens and activists from around the state converged earlier this week on the DEP’s offices for two separate protests. Among their demands, protesters want the DEP to revoke the draft pollution permit and redo the application process using an independent body.

» Read full story

Warren and Markey say FERC is wrong

by Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
May 24, 2017

SANDISFIELD — Two U.S. lawmakers representing Massachusetts have once again slammed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not listening to citizens and groups who have challenged various aspects of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s project, currently underway here.

“FERC is clearly wrong,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren in an email. “As pipeline construction moves forward, irreparable harm is being done to Otis State Forest. The Commission continues to ignore the voices of Western Massachusetts, which is wrong as a matter of policy and goes against FERC’s own guiding principles.”

FERC acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur told Warren and Sen. Edward Markey in a letter dated Saturday that the commission had thoroughly and independently addressed all potential concerns about the company’s natural gas storage loop that required tree cutting on about 6 acres and 2 miles of Otis State Forest, land protected under the state Constitution.

It was mostly the clearing of this protected land that spurred protests resulting in 24 arrests since the beginning of May.

But the state last year did fight granting the company this easement, needed to expand an existing pipeline corridor for a third line in this part of the Kinder Morgan subsidiary’s 13 mile tri-state Connecticut Expansion Project.

From the beginning, lots of concerns have been raised by Sandisfield citizens and other groups. The issues range from environmental threats to possible gas demand changes.

Both Warren and Markey, and later, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said those pending challenges filed with FERC should have been heard before tree cutting began. Neal also received a response from FERC, but could not be reached for comment.

The lawmakers also told FERC it should have reconstituted its quorum before making the decision to allow the company to proceed, and have a consistent policy with regard to its voting members. While the agency did not have enough members to hear the pending challenges in a rehearing, it issued permission to start construction all the same, something Warren and Markey took FERC to task for last month.

“FERC should never have allowed this pipeline project to begin construction when it lacked a sufficient quorum to be able to evaluate and act on the challenges that have been raised by the local community,” Markey said. “When FERC cannot act on pending challenges to a pipeline project, it should not allow that pipeline project to move forward until those challenges can be heard.”

LaFleur said FERC had last year denied the requests for a rehearing on those pending challenges because pipeline “impacts will be adequately minimized or mitigated, and parties have not demonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm or injury in the absence of a stay.”

But in their April letter asking FERC to revoke its notice to start pipeline work, Warren and Markey pointed out that FERC last year did not “outright deny the request for the rehearing,” but “found substantial merit to grant the rehearing request.”

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.
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Trump Sends $4.1T Budget to Congress, Nixes ‘Crazy’ Obama Spending on Climate Change

by Charlie Passut, Natural Gas Intelligence
May 23, 2017

President Trump on Tuesday sent a $4.1 trillion budget proposal to Congress that mirrors earlier plans to cleave nearly one-third of funding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as his budget director derided the previous administration’s “crazy” spending on climate change.

Democrats quickly blasted the proposed budget as “cruel” because in the overall budget plan, social programs would be slashed or eliminated to offset a $52.8 billion increase in defense spending. Democrats and some Republican lawmakers also signaled that the 12 appropriations bills that Congress eventually must pass to fund the federal government would not resemble Trump’s proposal.

The proposed budget, officially titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” calls for allocating $5.7 billion to the EPA for fiscal year (FY) 2018. That equates to a $2.6 billion (31.4%) decrease in funding from the $8.2 billion the agency received in FY2017, making the EPA the unfortunate recipient of the largest proposed cut to the federal government’s major agencies.

By comparison, the budget calls for allocating $11.7 billion to the Department of Interior (DOI) and $28 billion to the Department of Energy (DOE), amounting to proposed cuts of $1.4 billion (10.9%) and $1.7 billion (5.6%) from FY2017, respectively.

“To unleash the power of American work and creativity, and drive opportunity and faster economic growth, we must reprioritize federal spending so that it advances the safety and security of the American people,” Trump said in written remarks to Congress that accompanied the budget.

On energy development, the president said “we must increase development of America’s energy resources, strengthening our national security, lowering the price of electricity and transportation fuels, and driving down the cost of consumer goods so that every American individual and business has more money to save and invest. A consistent, long-term supply of lower-cost American energy brings with it a much larger economy, more jobs, and greater security for the American people.”

During a press conference Tuesday, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney accused the Obama administration of wasting taxpayer money on climate change.

“What I think you saw happen during the previous administration is the pendulum went too far to one side, where we’re spending too much of your money on climate change, and not very efficiently,” Mulvaney said.

“We don’t get rid of [climate change spending] here. Do we target it? Sure. Do a lot of EPA reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes. Does it mean that we are anti-science? Absolutely not. We’re simply trying to get things back in order to where we can look at the folks who pay the taxes and say, ‘Look, yeah, we want to do some climate science, but we’re not going to do some of the crazy stuff the previous administration did.'”

The budget plan released Tuesday closely resembles the preliminary, or “skinny,” budget that the Trump administration proposed on March 16. Specifically, the new budget numbers are unchanged from the March proposal, with the exception of the DOI; the Trump administration had originally proposed $11.6 billion in funding, or a reduction of $1.5 billion (12%).

“President Trump promised the American people he would cut wasteful spending and make the government work for the taxpayer again, and that’s exactly what this budget does,” said DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke. “Working carefully with the president, we identified areas where we could reduce spending and also areas for investment, such as…increasing domestic energy production on federal lands.

“The budget also allows the DOI to return to the traditional principles of multiple-use management to include both responsible natural resource development and conservation of special places…the president’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

According to a breakdown of the DOI’s proposed budget, the department’s funding includes $791.2 million in current and permanent funding for energy related programs, an increase of $16.3 million from FY2017. Of that figure, $375.9 million will go to supporting an offshore energy development program for activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The budget also calls for a $10.2 million increase in funding to the DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management so it can update its five-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement would receive an additional $1.2 million “to focus on workforce training, permitting and information technologies to better permit exploration, development and production operations,” the department said.

In the onshore, the budget includes a $16 million increase to DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the oil and gas management program, which would total $75.9 million. Funding for the BLM’s onshore oil and gas activities, including permanent funding, would total $173.6 million, an increase of $23.9 million.

“Interior’s 2018 budget supports an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy development strategy, increasing funding for onshore and offshore oil and gas, expanding coal activities, and sustaining the current pace of renewable energy development,'” the DOI said.

DOE Secretary Rick Perry called the proposed budget “fiscally responsible and respectful to the American taxpayer,” adding that it “reflects the importance of strengthening our nuclear capabilities, and places an emphasis on early stage energy technology research and development.”

Indeed, the DOE’s proposed budget of $28 billion includes $13.9 billion for its National Nuclear Security Administration, an increase of $1.4 billion (11.4%) from FY2017. Other energy programs at DOE would receive the remaining $14.1 billion, facing a cut of $3.1 billion (18%).

The DOE budget also includes a proposal to reduce the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) by half, and envisions cutting $500 million in spending to support the reserve in FY2018. The Trump administration estimated that cutting the reserve in half would save an estimated $4.4 billion over the next five fiscal years, and $16.6 billion over the next 10 years.

Democrats Attack, GOP Cites Progress

Democrats in Congress quickly upbraided the Trump administration over the proposed budget.

“President Trump’s budget is a stark showcase of [his] broken promises to America’s hard-working families,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “It’s a short-sighted and cruel budget that perfectly reflects what Republicans in Congress have been trying to inflict on America for years.”

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) said she was “utterly aghast by the flagrant contempt for the welfare of working- and middle class Americans exhibited in President Donald Trump’s full FY2018 budget. The outrageous funding cuts outlined in the president’s budget walk the line between ignorance and indifference while disregarding the needs of seniors, families, and children with disabilities.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Trump’s budget “builds on progress” made on defense and border security, and that provisions within the budget would “serve as guideposts” for the Senate Committee on the Budget and its chairman, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY).

“I also appreciate the president’s commitment to slowing the growth of mandatory spending which, if left unaddressed, could eventually limit our ability to invest in nearly anything else as the debt — and the interest we have to pay on it — increases and crowds out spending on other major priorities,” McConnell said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was more pragmatic. “The president’s budget request is always subject to significant revision by Congress, and this budget will be no exception,” she said. “Throughout my time in the Senate, I have never seen a president’s budget make it through Congress unchanged.”

American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle called the SPR “a relic from an era of undue supply concern; we now know, of course, that the United States sits atop billions of barrels of oil waiting to be tapped… Encouragingly, this budget anticipates oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge starting in 2022, which will not only shore up domestic supply, but also fill government coffers with leasing revenue.”

Pyle said cuts to the EPA will cause the agency “to focus its attention on the issues of highest national priority, while releasing power for many regional initiatives back to states and municipalities.”

But Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, called Trump’s proposed cuts “draconian” and urged Congress to reject them.

“For all the talk about increasing U.S. jobs, the president’s budget takes a meat cleaver to the largest job creator in the energy sector: energy efficiency,” Nadel said. “It seeks crippling cuts to federal programs that transform waste into wealth and help support 2.2 million energy efficiency jobs.”

Thoreau Cabin Pipeline Barricade Rises Again

The Crew at Day's End

May 21, SANDISFIELD– In the enduring Yankee spirit of civil disobedience– of which Thoreau wrote so staunchly in favor of in 1849– twenty citizens of Massachusetts congregated at the edge of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline easement in Otis State Forest to finish construction of a “Thoreau Cabin” as part of their ongoing resistance to a $93 million pipeline. The “Thoreau Cabin Pipeline Barricade,” which once sat in the right of way for the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (NED), has been reassembled on the property of local land owner Sue Baxter, whose land abuts the easement.
 
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Thanks to an ingenious bit of cabin-shifting that proved once again that the Sugar Shack Alliance can move objects thought to be immovable, the cabin was coaxed eight feet to the east, putting it well within compliance of Sandisfield’s building codes, which had been raised the previous Monday to put a temporary halt to the cabin-raising. On Saturday, a lone pipeline worker strolled up the easement at about 2 p.m. talking on his cell phone and was heard to utter, perhaps in disbelief, “Yep, they moved it. And they’re putting a roof on it!” Unlike earlier in the week, though, no town officials turned up to order the cabin dismantled.
 
Kinder Morgan crews have finished clear-cutting trees along the easement, and evidence of their work was in clear view of the activists, but they went about their work undaunted deep into the afternoon, culminating in the finishing off of the cabin’s roof, complete with the traditional timber-framing ritual of “topping out” the cabin with an evergreen sprig. They ended the afternoon with a round of anti-pipeline songs by Sugar Shack members and musicians Tom Neilson and Lynn Waldron.
 
The cabin was originally built in Ashfield in March 2015, where it stood for six months in protest of the then-impending, now-defunct NED pipeline. Elwell says that though his original intention was to block the pipeline, which was slated to run through his friend Larry’s backyard, the cabin became a point of conversation, an educational tool, and a symbol for the community to galvanize around.
 
“I am trying to invoke Thoreau’s attitude,” Elwell said, “I want to raise the idea of conservation and civil disobedience. This is a symbol of our resistance and our resolve to stop this.” Elwell spent much of the past week researching building codes and enforcement mechanisms, and put the call out late in the week for a crew to help him move the cabin—placing it within the requisite 15 feet from all property lines—and to finish and top it out. A crew of twenty Sugar Shack activists answered the call.
 
The Connecticut Expansion Project, which runs across state-owned land, through protected wetlands, and over sacred Native American sites, has faced ongoing opposition in the last year through legal channels, public dissent, and, most recently, through acts of civil disobedience. Earlier this month 24 members of Sugar Shack were arrested in non-violent direct actions (NVDA) to stop construction.
 
Elwell and activists think that Thoreau would have been proud, pointing our that the transcendentalist asserted that citizens have not only the right to engage is civil disobedience but– in some situations– the imperative:
 
“If it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine[…] I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”
 
Contact: Bob Barba, 413-522-7537 or Abigail Ferla, 860-882-7510

Pipeline trucks tough on roads: Kinder Morgan says it will make repairs but company had backed out of road agreement last year

SANDISFIELD – It’s a bumpier ride on Cold Spring Road these days.

”It’s crazy,” said Alice Boyd, the town’s Select Board chairwoman and town manager.

”They’re coming in from all directions.”

Boyd is talking about pipeline-related road damage and traffic, including trucks carrying equipment for Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Connecticut Expansion Project. Many of the town’s roads are narrow, and the winters are hard on them. 

Just a few weeks into a six-month project by the Kinder Morgan subsidiary, the roads are noticeably worse for wear. And the heavier trucks carrying pipe haven’t even started arriving yet.

In an email Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said the company will “restore roads to their prior condition before construction began.” 

”We are obligated,” he wrote.

Boyd said she hasn’t heard from the company in a while about the effect on roads or a proposed solution. 

”We thought we would have a better general sense of how this was going to move forward and what would happen after,” Boyd said. “But I haven’t heard anything.”

Work preparing about 4 miles here for the 13 mile tri-state natural gas storage loop is underway, with tree cutting complete and chipping and stump grinding in progress. 

About three weeks ago company contractors came here to begin adding the company’s third gas line in the corridor, one that has seen several anti-pipeline protests and 24 arrests, partly because of tree cutting on an easement of protected land in Otis State Forest.

But the roughly 10 miles of road here affected by the project are another problem in a town that spends from $360,000 to $380,000 annually on some of its 91 miles of roadway, lots of it unpaved. 

”[Pipeline traffic] is making a real mess,” Boyd said, adding that 40-foot tractor-trailers are also “deteriorating the road edge” when traveling on key pipeline access roads, drivers have to back in because there is no place to turn around.

”When you back up a 40-foot truck you can’t see, and they are going off the road,” Boyd added. 

One such truck got stuck the other day trying to make a sharp turn on a bridge with a low weight rating, another issue altogether as there are several low-rated bridges and culverts along the truck routes in other nearby towns as well, Boyd added.

“We’re very worried about it,” she said. “There are culverts that are close to collapsing.

“

She said one had been propped up with another piece of metal for reinforcement. 

Boyd said Highway Superintendent Bobby O’Brien talks to local company officials when there’s a problem. She said the town and company have a “reasonable and respectful” relationship.

“[The company] is responsive,” she added, noting that its employees had posted reduced speed limit signs and have rerouted some traffic. O’Brien did not return calls for comment.

Tennessee Gas officials knew the roads would take a hit, among other impacts to the town. And the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission had told company officials it should consult with affected towns about how to deal with stress to roads not built to handle so much heavy traffic. 

”These rural roads don’t have much structural base to them,” said BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns. “They’re structurally very weak and what little sub-base is there gets destroyed.” 

He said the company planned to videotape roadways to compare before and after conditions. “But the road is more than the surface,” he added. 

”Kinder Morgan coming back and just slapping a coat of asphalt won’t correct damage to the road base,” he said. “Really there should have been a full civil engineering assessment of what underlies those roads. The soils and geology here are rock-ledge super-saturated clay.

“

Wheatley declined to elaborate further about road repair details.

In 2015, a company attorney drafted an agreement with Sandisfield’s attorney to pay the town just over $1 million in a “community benefits agreement,” to partly address this. 

It was around this time Boyd said she heard company officials say they would restore the roads, and a “road-use agreement” was drafted, Boyd said. “There was no dollar sign attached. It stipulated the procedure for dealing with damage.” 

But Tennessee Gas backed out of both agreements on the afternoon before the special town meeting to authorize Boyd to sign them. Wheatley declined to comment about why the company didn’t sign.

And the company has approached Boyd again and offered to compensate the town for legal fees — incurred from drafting those agreements — of a little more than $40,000, which it had promised to do in 2015. Those fees have climbed to around $70,000, Boyd said. 

”Our counsel has not been paid in over a year,” she added. “They’ve been amazing, saying `Don’t worry, you can pay if there’s a settlement.’ “

Karns said Kinder Morgan should do more. “Our opinion was that they should be providing the town with a three or four year financial surety to fix the problems after one or two winter seasons,” he said. 

State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli D-Lenox has tried to help Sandisfield and brought the situation to the attention of the state Attorney General’s Office, which fought the company last year over the state forest easement.

And the Attorney General’s Office has been quietly trying to help by negotiating with the pipeline company on the town’s behalf over the past year, something Boyd said she wasn’t aware of.

Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Emily Snyder said the office has “encouraged Kinder Morgan to consider the many impacts faced by the town.”

”We have asked the company to provide financial support to the town and continue to correspond with Kinder Morgan to press for that support,” Snyder said.

If the company doesn’t do what it says it will, affected towns may have an ally in Boston.

”We’ll send somebody out to take a look at the roads,” said Gov. Charlie Baker, at a visit to The Eagle last week. “We’ll see what might be possible there.”

After learning that Tennessee Gas had declined to sign agreements with the town, Baker said he would have a state Department of Transportation official take a look at the situation. 

”If they’re reneging on the deal they made with the town then we should look into that,” he added. 

”That would be wonderful — we would be elated,” Boyd said when she heard about Baker’s response. “We haven’t heard from anyone at all.”

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.