Activists protest Eversource’s planned Springfield pipeline

  • Michele Marantz, a member of the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group, speaks at a press conference in opposition to a proposed Eversource gas pipeline, in Springfield, Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Naia Tenerowicz speaks at a rally in Springfield, Thursday, voicing opposition to a proposed Eversource gas pipeline. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2021 8:02:19 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Speaking in front of a crowd gathered in front of City Hall on Thursday, local climate justice activist Naia Tenerowicz spoke forcefully about the impacts of climate change on younger generations.

When contemplating the future, previous generations thought about flying cars and other technological marvels, Tenerowicz said, while younger generations think merely of salvaging “dreams of a livable future.”

“I am not willing to fund the destruction of my future,” Tenerowicz said. “I am not going to stand aside as Eversource fuels the fire that is burning my dreams.”

Tenerowicz was one of around two dozen activists from the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition and other groups gathered in front of City Hall for a press conference, expressing their opposition to Eversource’s planned construction of a gas pipeline from Longmeadow into downtown Springfield. The pipeline would be a significant expansion of the region’s fossil fuel infrastructure after state lawmakers passed a climate law earlier this year that requires the state to halve its carbon emissions by the end of the decade and become carbon neutral by 2050.

“Make no mistake, this is a major expansion project,” said Zulma Rivera, an organizer with Neighbor 2 Neighbor.

Eversource says the pipeline is needed to “enhance reliability” for 58,000 gas customers in the Springfield area who are served by one 70-year-old pipeline. In a statement, spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said the company has not submitted its formal proposal to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, after which it will face local, state and federal permitting processes, as well as several years of regulatory proceedings.

“With a comprehensive public process just now beginning, we are committed to close collaboration throughout with our neighbors in the community and stakeholders at all levels to listen to their feedback and input — starting with two virtual open houses next week to give local residents and business owners an opportunity to learn more about the proposed project with subject matter experts, ask questions and provide comments,” Ress said.

But environmental groups and local residents aren’t buying Eversource’s reasons for building the pipeline.

“It just is not necessary,” Northampton activist Marty Nathan said ahead of Thursday’s event. “Nobody needs this. This is a made-up problem to suit the profit-loss sheet for Eversource.”

Some at the protest cited the dangers of explosions from gas pipelines, such as the 2012 blast at a Springfield strip club following a gas leak, which flattened the building and injured at least 18 people.

Others spoke about the dangers of gas to the health of residents in Springfield, which until this year was considered the asthma capital of the United States by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Growing research has associated gas stoves with pediatric asthma, for example, and gas leaks can spew toxic methane into communities’ air.

The biggest danger that the environmental groups spoke about, however, was the existential crisis of climate change.

“Environmental justice is an issue not just here in Springfield, but across the state and world,” said Mireille Bejjani, the western Massachusetts organizer for the group Community Action Works.

A long-term study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Massachusetts is underestimating the amount of methane leaking from gas pipelines. The Harvard University and Boston University researchers found that six times more methane — a potent greenhouse gas — was leaking into the air around Boston than previously thought, undermining any climate benefits that come from using gas instead of other energy sources like coal.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sent a message of support to the activists on Thursday, which was read by his state policy adviser, Jossie Valentine of Holyoke. In a statement to the Gazette, Markey said that fossil fuel pipelines are “dirty, dangerous, and detrimental to public health and the environment.”

“Building new fossil fuel infrastructure is incompatible with what is scientifically necessary to combat the climate crisis,” Markey said. “We don’t need more pipelines just to improve profits for gas companies. We need environmental justice to improve the lives of everyone who lives in Springfield and Longmeadow. We need climate action to improve the health and safety of our future.”

Those at Thursday’s event said Eversource was attempting to secure gas customers for years to come, extracting profit at the expense of residents of Massachusetts.

“If this is a backup, this is clearly overkill,” said Verne McArthur, a Springfield Climate Justice Coalition member. He said the new pipe would be four times as large as the current one.

“This is a desperate attempt to provide returns for Eversource shareholders before any real transition away from fossil fuels occurs.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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