Gubernatorial candidate Berwick says no to Tennessee Gas Pipeline project

Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Don Berwick has became the first candidate for that office to come out in opposition to Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s proposed project for Massachusetts.

Berwick, a Newton pediatrician, announced in a statement last week, “We should not commit to new natural gas infrastructure until we know for certain that it is necessary to meet our energy needs. To date, I am not convinced that that case has been made.”

While he said that “we need a ‘bridge’ in the short term until we can power our grid and mobile sources with a minimum of fossil fuels,” and that he wants to set Massachusetts “on the path towards becoming the first carbon neutral state,” Berwick — one of three Democrats seeking the governorship in the September primary — said he is concerned about the danger of making long-term investments in natural-gas infrastructure that could “lock us into the use of fossil fuels for far longer than necessary.”

Instead, Berwick called for plugging leaks from existing natural gas infrastructure, use of “innovative technologies that can help smooth demand” during peaks and for ramping up efforts for conservation and renewable energy sources.

Berwick’s statement opposing the pipeline project — which would cross nine Franklin County towns on its route from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, north of Lowell — followed by one day that of Maura Healey, one of two Democrats running for attorney general.

Healey’s statement said, “Before moving forward on proposed pipeline infrastructure, we need a transparent process that evaluates energy needs, protects ratepayers, explores alternatives, and respects landowners and conservation land.”

Berwick dismissed suggestions that his position is at odds with that of his wife, Ann, who, as Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities chairwoman, is also president of the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE), a regional panel that has been criticized for a closed process with energy executives and recommending financing through ratepayer tariffs of natural gas pipelines and electricity transmission lines to bring power to the region.

Conservation Law Foundation last week filed a complaint in Suffolk Superior Court against the state Executive Office of Energy and Environment for withholding public documents it began requesting in March about development of the New England Governors’ regional energy plans.

Berwick said, “We are separate people,” stressing that his position is his alone, and emphasized that his wife has taken no position on the pipeline, which has not come before the DPU. Furthermore, he said, NESCOE has not endorsed any pipeline proposal.

“To attribute any imagined position of NESCOE to my wife is a misunderstanding,” he said, repeating that his opposition to the pipeline project is his alone. “I see no inconsistency.”

In a related matter, NESCOE on Monday issued a response to Conservation Law Foundation’s charges, explaining, “NESCOE is a not-for-profit corporation that facilitates collaboration among the six New England states in connection with regional wholesale electricity matters. NESCOE is not a state government agency and is not subject to the state laws CLF references.”