Lilly Lombard: Climate crisis solution needs help from Columbia Gas

  • Employees of Columbia Gas update a line outside a house on Hubbard Ave in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/Carol Lollis

Published: 5/30/2019 10:00:26 PM

In the wake of the horrific Merrimack Valley gas disaster, and with big, new (and unnecessary) gas projects threatening the health and safety of Agawam and Longmeadow, give credit to CEO Mark Kempic for his effort to apply new polish to the badly tarnished reputation of Columbia Gas.

In a recent op-ed published by several Massachusetts papers — Daily Hampshire Gazette, Springfield Republican, Lawrence Eagle Tribune, and Andover Townsman — Kempic uses comforting words like “trust,” “commitment,” and “community partnership.”

He vows to improve Columbia’s service and to repair public confidence with “state-of-the-art infrastructure and enhanced safety features.” Better still, the utility company has targeted STEM-focused youth with its new, “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” program in an effort to win public relations points, all while seeking to expand our use of fossil fuel in an era of accelerating climate change.

Indeed, conspicuously absent from Kempic’s charm offensive are the less cozy terms we associate with his company’s sole product: “greenhouse gas,” “indoor air pollutant,” “volatile fuel” and “hydraulic fracking.” If you want to understand these concepts as they apply to our gas industry, watch the award-winning documentary “Under Pressure,” produced by the enterprising high school senior class of Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield.

Let us remember that any honest STEM curriculum includes a science-based study of the pollutants driving our planetary crisis, and the technologies we will need to protect ourselves and our children from the effects of catastrophic climate change. Leaked and burned methane gas are exacerbating global warming.

Kempic doesn’t mention that the journals Science (2018)and the National Academy of Sciences(2015) indicate that the cumulative leak rate of methane gas reaching Massachusetts consumers is 5 percent — and, at that level, fracked gas is more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than coal.

He doesn’t mention that replacing the thousands of miles of antiquated gas pipelines needed to address this problem is a supreme waste of ratepayer dollars at a time when we are told by the International Panel on Climate Change that we must shift as rapidly as possible to clean energy.

On Earth Day, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse challenged Columbia Gas to “be part of the solution.” Multimillion dollar plans to make pipelines “state-of-the-art” and “reliable” ignore our climate crisis, waste ratepayer money, and delay our energy transition. Morse wrote: “Imagine what we could do to promote energy efficiency and reduce our need for more fossil fuels if that money were diverted. Imagine what Columbia Gas could do if its own powers of ingenuity were geared toward sound environmental solutions.”

Kempic, we welcome new partnerships, but they need to be grounded in straight talk and actual facts. You can’t help us educate our young people while ignoring our climate crisis. Columbia Gas, be part of the solution.

Lilly Lombard lives in Northampton.

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