Editorial: Revamp FERC pipeline approval process

  • Industrial pipe with gas and oil

Published: 10/8/2016 12:23:32 PM

That was quite an anti-pipeline Christmas wish list that regional officials sent to our federal lawmakers the other day.

Foes of Kinder Morgan’s now dead Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline will hear echoes of most of their criticisms of the federal agency in charge of pipeline approvals and its process. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission never met a pipeline it didn’t like, went the local assessment of the “regulatory” process that seemed stacked against landowners, towns and even the state from the start.

While a great sigh of relief washed across western Massachusetts when Kinder Morgan pulled the plug, the decision was based more on low demand for its gas domestically — even though local pipeline alliances and towns were strenuous in their opposition, and the state was contemplating invoking a provision of its own constitution to block the project in the Supreme Court.

So, while most of us were thrilled to see this particular threat to our bucolic region fade into history, regional planners are well aware another similar project could come another day, and we’d face the same daunting odds because of the way the system works — or rather doesn’t work for host communities.

So we were glad to see that the Franklin Regional Council of Governments is pressing for the region’s congressional delegation to seek improvements in the way natural gas pipeline applications are reviewed by FERC.

In a letter to U.S. Reps. James McGovern and Richard Neal as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey (all Democrats), Council of Governments Executive Committee Chairman Bill Perlman and Planning Board Chairman Jerry Lund call for changes in the process FERC used in its review of the Northeast Energy Direct project.

“The FERC process was unfair and unresponsive to community and regional concerns related to environmental impacts and public health and safety,” they wrote in the letter.

The letter makes a dozen suggestions to the federal lawmakers for changes in FERC’s process.

Perlman and Lund would require FERC to take into account state energy and climate-change action plans as well as federal policies on global warming and energy when it considers infrastructure that would increase fossil fuel use. Both those policies contemplate greener energy futures, not more pipelines.

They would require FERC to consider the capacity of all existing or proposed competing gas pipelines and prioritize pre-existing pipeline routes rather than new routes, when considering alternatives.

They would prohibit FERC from granting eminent domain authority for pipelines that will export any gas, a visceral fear of local landowners in this case.

They want public health impact assessment for any pipeline or related facilities as part of the application process and require that environmental impact statements for projects be prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency or other independent agency.

Other suggestions included prohibiting FERC from overriding any state constitutional provision, which in this case was Article 97, a provision of the state constitution that shields from eminent domain any land the state has paid to protect from development.

And that’s just part of the shopping list.

We hope that our legislative delegation takes the issue as seriously as do residents of the Valley and regional planners.

Our elected representatives should work on this project as hard as did the local anti-pipeline alliances to alter FERC’s procedures and rules. If we meet a pipeline proposal again, it should be on a more even field.

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