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Activists protest natural gas pipeline project

Paul Tuthill
Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition reads a statement at a rally protesting a project advanced by Eversource to build a natural gas pipeline from a proposed delivery station in Longmeadow to an existing pressure regulating facility in Springfield's South End.

Eversource says the pipeline is needed for reliability not expansion

A coalition of environmental, social justice, and neighborhood activists are vowing an aggressive campaign against a proposed natural gas pipeline project in western Massachusetts.

At a rally this week on the steps of Springfield City Hall, speakers denounced a utility company’s proposal to build a five-mile-long natural gas pipeline from Longmeadow to the city’s South End, decrying the project as “unnecessary, unhealthy, and dangerous.”

Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition said new pipelines and more gas just doesn’t fit with the state’s legislatively mandated goal of dramatically reducing the use of fossil fuels for heating buildings in the next 10-30 years.

“It is just very misguided,” McArthur said of the project.

Eversource insists the proposed pipeline is not an expansion project, but is needed to back up aging infrastructure – a 70-year-old gas pipeline that is located under the Memorial Avenue Bridge spanning the Connecticut River. The utility company has warned that if something were to happen to that pipeline 58,000 customers could be left without gas for weeks.

The project, which includes building a new delivery station in Longmeadow, comes with a price tag of $40 million.

“Ratepayers will pay for this, increasingly those less able to transition away from gas – poor and low-income gas users,” McArthur said.

McArthur said the campaign against the pipeline project will include lawn signs to raise awareness about it, a petition, letter writing to state regulators and lawmakers, and more demonstrations and rallies.

Last month, an Eversource spokesman said the pipeline project proposal will be formally submitted to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board before the end of this year. That will open a regulatory proceeding that typically takes two years, according to the spokesman.

Mireille Bejjani, the western Massachusetts organizer for Community Action Works, said there is no way the state should approve the project given the new climate law that includes a host of environmental, clean energy, and social goals.

“This project is a test of our state administration,” Bejjani said. “Are they going to rise to the challenge and really center environmental justice and frontline communities in their decision making?”

Also at Thursday’s rally, speakers raised concerns about the safety of natural gas infrastructure, pointing to the Merrimack Valley disaster in 2018 and the 2012 explosion that leveled a strip club in Springfield and injured 18 people.

Yvette Hernandez of Springfield said members of her family lived in Lawrence at the time of the gas explosions in 2018.

“This project that is being proposed to go through our South End community is subjecting our families to an unneeded very very risky project,” she said.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey sent a message of support that was read at the rally.

A study by researchers at Harvard University and Boston University that was published last month said Massachusetts is underestimating the amount of methane leaking from natural gas pipelines. It said there is six times more methane escaping into the air around Boston than previously thought. This undercuts any climate advantage the burning of natural gas had over other fossil fuels.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.