Pittsfield — As opposition to Kinder Morgan’s $5 billion dollar Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline project continues to mount regionally, a group of local activists is pushing to unite communities across Berkshire County to stand against fossil fuel infrastructure expansion and to promote a clean energy future.
On Saturday, Jan. 31 the 350MA Berkshire Node convened an informational, countywide forum on the pipeline that saw more than 100 people turn out at the ITAM Lodge. More than a dozen towns were represented throughout the county and about half the attendees were residents of communities along the proposed pipeline route. Berkshire towns that are slated to play host to the high-pressure, 36-inch diameter NED pipeline currently include Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor.
One of the youngest attendees, 17-year-old Dylan Quinn of Cheshire, was there to get informed and take notes on behalf of his family who couldn’t attend. He said this issue is important to him because he lives in Cheshire and the pipeline is planned to cut right under the local reservoir. “I’m glad to see so many people here with this shared interest,” he said.
While fighting the Kinder Morgan pipeline was the main focus, the forum was not limited to that single scope. Instead, folks heard from over half a dozen speakers on an array of topics ranging from developing public law and the divestment movement to becoming a Green Community and advancing a clean energy economy.
Speakers included Cummington resident Rosemary Wessel of No Fracked Gas in Mass, Ashfield resident Jim Cutler of MassPLAN, Pittsfield resident Jane Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Windsor resident Stu Besnoff of Alpine Solar Heat and Hot Water, Linda Leeds of FrackBustersNY, and 350MA Berkshire Node members Arnold Piancentini, Judy Eddy, Gary Stoller and Ellie Johnston.
Wessel, Cutler and Winn addressed the long list of concerns with fracked gas pipelines like the NED project. After Wessel covered some of the health and safety issues inherent with these gas lines, Cutler delved into detailing what a compressor station entails and why this industrial facility is particularly distressing. He also explained that the massive size of the planned compressor stations is indicative that much of this gas will be exported. There is currently a compressor station planned to come to the Berkshires, to be sited in the town of Windsor.
Winn also touched on the export expectation, as there is already infrastructure in place to send the gas from the NED endpoint in Dracut, Mass., northward to shipping ports in eastern Canada. “The pipeline coming down from Nova Scotia to Dracut, called the Maritimes Northeast Pipeline, has applied to reverse direction, to be able to carry gas from Dracut up to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,” she explained. She further dispelled the broader myths clouding the natural gas debate, arguing that the fuel is not clean, not reliable, not cheap and not needed.
Richmond resident and forum coordinator Arnold Piancentini addressed the myth that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future. “We can’t put our heads in the sand and create an imaginary bridge by replacing coal and oil with gas,” he said. “It doesn’t get us to where we want to be, it’s not a bridge. It’s a road to a cliff.”
Piancentini explained the economic benefits of building up the clean energy economy, citing a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at UMASS-Amherst that found that rapidly transitioning to a renewable energy economy could create over 2 million net new jobs.
As fellow 350MA Berkshire Node member Judy Eddy further pointed out, the job potential for the green economy far outpaces the temporary jobs touted by pipeline proponents. “The green economy is going to outstrip anything that is going to happen with this pipeline,” she said.
Locally and across the state, towns are already striving towards this transition to the renewable energy economy by earning the status of Green Communities. Stu Besnoff of Windsor explained what this entails, namely leveraging state grant money to implement community-scale renewable energy projects and to reduce the town’s energy consumption through efficiency measures.
Ultimately, as several speakers explained, the path to advancing this clean energy economy is being blocked by the tremendous wealth and power that the fossil fuel industry exerts over the nation’s political and regulatory system. Divestment is one strategy to address this issue. “We’re not trying to break the fossil fuel companies,” said Gary Stoller, divestment coordinator for 350MA Berkshire Node. “The aim is to break the vicious stranglehold that these companies have on our national policy.”
Another tactic is to pass legislation upholding the rights of the people and penalizing corporations or other interests engaged in destructive activities like fracking. As Linda Leeds of the activist group FrackBustersNY explained, “The gas and oil industries didn’t have to use their connections, their treasury or their guile to evade the laws and regulations. They wrote the laws and they wrote the regulations, and they outright exempted themselves from any responsibility, from any liability.”
To counter this “rigged regulatory system,” as Leeds put it, FrackBustersNY drafted what it calls “New York Public Law #1,” which asserts that fracking is “destructive to public health, to the environment, to communities, to economic stability and jobs, to representative government, and to the fundamental integrity of the body politic.” Under this declaration, corporations or government officials tied to fracking would be subject to felony charges. “We refuse to play by their rules,” Leeds concluded.
Mary Finneran, also of FrackBusters NY, said she attended the event to help spread the word and network with like-minded, concerned citizens. “I think the networking is really important, to build a coalition of the people, by the people, and for the people, to claim our sovereignty and stop the corporate assault on the people,” she said. “And the fracking and the gas lines are one of the most egregious assaults on the people.”
“We don’t want the pipeline in Massachusetts, we don’t want fracked gas in Massachusetts,” added Linda-Kaye Moses of Dalton, another forum attendee. “And I’m very much interested in health and safety concerns. I think there are too many to ignore. I want to stop the pipeline before anything goes any further.”