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.