Two days ago in Boston, elected representatives from our region, including Susannah Whipps Lee (R-Athol), offered a joint statement of testimony designed to protect conservation land across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The testimony was given at a hearing of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight in the State House’s Gardner Auditorium, filled almost to capacity. I attended with my friend Rice Flanders of Orange and saw many other North Quabbin region residents there, too. Among them was Pat Larson of Orange, who has been a stalwart not only in the anti-pipeline movement but as a founder and active member of North Quabbin Energy, and Leigh Youngblood of Warwick, executive director of the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust.
The focus of the testimony was Article 97 of the state constitution, originally drafted by State Sen. Robert Wetmore (D-Barre). Leigh, also a witness at the hearing, has been devoted to the battle to protect Article 97, sometimes called the Environmental Bill of Rights, precisely because the land trust’s work will be shattered if Article 97 is not respected.
The legislators clearly understood the complexities. I was impressed with the quality of the testimony and the various issues raised in it. By the way, Rep. Whipps Lee informed me she did not attend in person (due to a previous obligation) while making certain her voice was included in this testimony (read by Rep. Kulik (D-Worthington). Here are the opening paragraphs:
“We are legislators who represent communities which are affected by the proposed Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Company pipeline projects in Massachusetts, one of which is the subject of your committee hearing today: H3690, An Act relative to the conveyance of an easement in the town of Sandisfield [in the southern Berkshires]. We strongly oppose this legislation, as we will any future legislation which seeks to remove Article 97 protections for any gas pipeline construction projects.
“Our Commonwealth has a deep and strong commitment to land conservation. We are fortunate to live in a state that has carefully invested significant public resources into a healthy, vibrant landscape that protects drinking water, family farms, outdoor recreational sites, parks, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty. Article 97 of the Articles of Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution is meant to protect these investments and resources, and we are deeply concerned that they are at risk and that our Constitutional protections may be undermined and overridden.
“As you know, there are multiple proposals for natural gas pipelines in the Commonwealth, putting close to 100 parcels of land protected under Article 97 at risk. We are very concerned about two projects in particular, the Connecticut Expansion Project (CEP) and the Northeast Energy Direct Project (NED). The NED proposal includes over 100 miles of new pipeline running across western and northeastern Massachusetts, and the CEP would cut through the pristine Otis State Forest in western Massachusetts. Certainly, energy needs are an important issue that we must address. However, addressing energy needs should not be at the undoing of decades of careful public investment in land conservation.”
Many attendees became quite emotional during the testimony, as so many witnesses from all across the state expressed frustration at the idea that legislators might allow a pipeline to be built through beautiful and cherished conservation land. Several witnesses were from land trusts and respected statewide organizations such as Mass Audubon and the Trustees of Reservations. Leigh’s testimony included this:
“It is well known that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) deck is stacked in favor of approving natural gas pipelines….In relation to interstate natural gas pipelines, Article 97 has a unique role. Because of federal preemption, even if this bill is defeated, the easements could still be taken by Kinder Morgan using eminent domain powers...But FERC’s own policy states, ‘The strength of the benefit showing will need to be proportional to the applicant’s proposed exercise of eminent domain procedures.’ In other words, the legislature’s defeat of Article 97 bills for interstate pipelines simply raises the bar against which Kinder Morgan must prove the net benefits of a project.”
Rep. Peter Kocot, house chair of the committee, asked the hundreds of partisan attendees to avoid disruption, and they did. When the Kinder Morgan quartet – executives and lawyers – was testifying, there were no anti-pipeline chants and no one shouted “Shame!” or “How can you sleep at night?” or “Capitalist pigs!” as might have happened in another era or another city.
One cannot help but be impressed at the seriousness of the pipeline opponents, who have done considerable research into energy policy, the safety record of pipelines, and the nature of Kinder Morgan as an enterprise. Guilt by association can be unfair, but it’s a fact that Richard Kinder and William Morgan both formerly worked for Enron, a company that collapsed after considerable wrongdoing.
There are some people who have been convinced by the propaganda emanating from Kinder Morgan. Recently, I’ve seen a few pro-pipeline signs hereabouts. Also, Morris Housen, chief executive officer of the Erving Paper Mills, has cooperated with the pipeline public relations effort in a widely-viewed television ad. I know that Morris is a thoughtful man concerned about keeping his business going on behalf of his family and his employees. However, I urge him and others who favor the pipeline to reconsider their views based, if nothing else, on the environmental degradation and the deep rift in our communities that will take place if the pipeline gets a green light.