Earth On Fire: An energy crossroads

2/16/16 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Columnist Luke Sherman poses for a headshot on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Regional environmentalists scored a huge victory last week.

After years of protesting energy giant Kinder Morgan Inc.’s proposed natural gas pipeline that would have crossed though eastern New York, northwestern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, community activists successfully exerted enough pressure on state and federal lawmakers to publicly oppose the 188-mile pipeline, which ultimately led to the project’s demise. A broad coalition of powerful elected officials, grassroots environmental groups and established non-profit organizations proved too much for the Texas-based company to overcome.

Had Governor Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) declined to endorse the highly controversial measure of charging electric ratepayers for the pipeline’s construction costs, a step approved by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) last fall, Kinder Morgan would likely never have put forward the plan in the first place. Democratic politicians in Massachusetts, including Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst, lined up against the proposal, aided by the Conservation Law Foundation appeal of the DPU’s decision, which company executives cited as one of the main reasons it opted to shelve the project.

This development only intensifies the debate concerning Massachusetts’ energy future. A number of corporations and the Baker administration argue that the state needs new natural gas pipelines to lower the Bay State’s energy costs, which rank among the highest in the nation. Alternatively, environmentalists – and many Democratic elected officials – contend that Massachusetts can satisfy its electricity demands by investing in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Last year, Attorney General Maura Healey (D-Mass.) buttressed their arguments when her office released a landmark study indicating that the state does not need new fossil fuel infrastructure projects to meets its demands. “This study demonstrates that we do not need increased gas capacity to meet electric reliability needs, and that electric ratepayers shouldn’t foot the bill for additional pipelines,” Attorney General Healey said in a statement in 2015. “A much more cost-effective solution is to embrace energy efficiency and demand response programs that protect ratepayers and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Invigorated by their recent victory, environmental activists will meet in West Roxbury, a neighborhood in Boston, this Saturday to protest the construction of another major pipeline project, this time proposed by Houston-based Spectra Energy. On May 3, No Fracked Gas in Mass, a reference to the highly polluting process known as hydraulic fracturing, and Mass Power Forward will rally at the steps of the Statehouse and pack an oversight hearing convened by the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.

Massachusetts currently stands at a crossroads: either it can lock itself into a future powered by fossil fuels or spur the growth of the wind and solar industries. Governor Baker and Attorney General Healey have made their positions on this issue known. Have you?