gas pipeline

Chuck Collins: In New England and elsewhere, anti-gas-pipeline activism picks up

Thousands of Native Americans at Standing Rock in North Dakota are protesting a pipeline project that puts their water supply at risk, threatens to plow up their sacred sites, and would worsen climate change.

Their rallying echoes hundreds of local struggles across the U.S. that question the prudence, safety, and necessity of thousands of new gas pipeline projects.

The gas industry tells us these projects promote energy independence and meet local gas needs. But the driving force behind most of these billion dollar infrastructure projects? Gas export.

Big gas is desperate to get their cheap shale gas to global export terminals — and they’ve dug up millions of backyards to do it. Fortunately for the industry, they have a subservient federal agency that grants them the power of eminent domain to take those backyards.

The anti-pipeline movement brings together mayors, state officials, and engaged neighbors concerned about health and safety, unnecessary rate increases, and the environmental irresponsibility of constructing new fossil-fuel infrastructure. They’re fed up with a system that allows the profits of private energy corporations to override local concerns and dictate our future.

Many politicians remain stuck in the “gas as a bridge fuel” perspective. But growing scientific evidence shows that methane from gas extraction and transportation poses a greater short-term climate change risk than burning carbon fuels like coal and oil.

We should be rapidly shifting away from all new fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, and investing in fixing existing gas leaks and using renewable energy like wind, hydroand solar. This shift will create millions of high-paying jobs in the new energy economy.

The anti-pipeline movement is gathering steam. Residents have mobilized to stop pipeline projects in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and have stalled others in Kentucky.

But not all anti-pipeline efforts have been successful.

In the Boston neighborhood of West Roxbury, residents have vigorously opposed a high-pressure pipeline that arcs into the heart of a densely populated neighborhood and terminates across from an active blasting quarry. All of Boston’s elected officials unanimously oppose this project — but big business is still winning.

The Texas-based Spectra Energy sued the city and took their streets by eminent domain. The city of Boston is still trying to block the project in court, but construction is almost complete. In the last year, almost 200 neighbors and religious leaders have been arrested for blocking construction.

How is this possible in a democratic society?

The answer lies with a little-known and unaccountable agency called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under the Gas Act of 1938, FERC may grant private corporations the power of eminent domain over local jurisdictions.

Maybe this was necessary in 1938 to build a modern energy system. But today, we need an energy agency that’ll balance a wider set of considerations, not just the interests of a politically powerful gas industry.

In the last few years, FERC has rubber-stamped just about every project the natural gas industry has sought to build. These include high-pressure pipelines running next to nuclear power plants, across fragile water supplies, and across traditional Native American lands.

In the words of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., FERC is a “rogue agency.” The U.S. Senate should convene oversight hearings to examine FERC overreach. Congress must modernize the Gas Act to protect communities and reduce carbon and methane emissions. And an independent agency should assess our nation’s real energy needs.

Decisions about our energy future shouldn’t revolve around a self-interested gas industry and investor-owned utilities. For the sake of the planet and our democracy, other voices must be at the table.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he co-edits . He is author of Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home and Committing to the Common Good. Distributed by


Build that gas pipeline; noisy times

Because of pollution, global warming and global geopolitics, we obviously need to move away from fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, but also natural gas. Still, our economy will primarily run on fossil fuels for a few more decades as we move too slowly away from them. The least dirty one — and quite cheap now — is gas.  

New England, if it’s to remain economically competitive with the rest of the country, must have access to more gas, of which there’s lots nearby, in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. The best way to obtain it is to build a 180-mile-long pipeline from central New York to a transmission hub in Dracut, north of Boston, as proposed by Kinder Morgan, the big pipeline company. However, it’s tougher than ever to get big things done in America. Well-heeled interest groups can hold up projects indefinitely, whatever the public interest. This is happening in the northern part of western and central Massachusetts, where some big landowners are trying to keep out the project. Many people understandably don’t want a pipeline across their acres, even with generous payments from the likes of Kinder. But New England has been on the edge of disaster several times in recent years when bad weather, and that gas is used for heating, cooking and electricity-generation, forcea utilities to turn to highly polluting oil when the gas-pipeline system — built originally only for heating and cooking — can’t meet demand, notably in cold waves.


We’ve barely missed region-wide blackouts. Meanwhile, New England’s pipeline-capacity deficit makes our energy bills higher and ability to expand business lower, and undermines economic-development planning. The engineering consultants Black & Veatch, in a study for the New England States Committee on Electricity, warns that severe gas shortages threaten the reliability of our electricity grid over the next few years. Many foes of pipelines (or at least of pipelines that go through their property, who tend to be affluent and thus can own a lot of land and can afford to hire lawyers to fight public projects) say that if we must have new pipelines, then let’s run them only along big roads and existing pipeline routes.


But that would be too limiting to meet a market demand that some experts project might increase 50 percent in the next few years. And it would require digging up more land in densely populated areas, much of it inhabited by low-income people. But then, the affluent, the biggest energy consumers on a per-capita basis, have always been more than happy to have the energy infrastructure that supports their lifestyles put in places where low-income people without easy access to lawyers and politicians live. Consider comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, who own hundreds of acres of tax-favored protected land that the pipeline might cross and are vehemently fighting it.



It  all recalls the old line about taxes, attribute to Russell Long: "Don't tax you, don't tax me; tax the man behind the tree''.

  Pipeline foes, as have wind-turbine opponents, cite the alleged environmental dangers of such projects. In the case of Kinder proposal, Mr. Cosby complains that “flora and fauna” would be imperiled. But they’re far more threatened by the air and water pollution and climate change caused by digging up and burning oil and coal than by the relatively clean gas extracted by fracking and put into pipelines.

  Then there’s the demand for the absurd promise that the pipeline would never leak or explode. But nothing is 100 percent safe. We’d have no modern civilization without risk, in the case of gas pipelines very low. And foes don’t mention the much greater dangers of tanker trucks and railroad cars carrying gas.

  Regulators and political leaders should push to take by eminent domain whatever land is needed for the Kinder project so that the region’s economy and, yes, environment can benefit from long-overdue gas-pipeline expansion. *** My wife and I went to a wedding at a Brooklyn restaurant almost under the famous bridge last Saturday. It has one of the world’s great urban views.

  We were New Yorkers back in the ’70s, and our visits evoke all sorts of memories.

  The music at such weddings used to be mostly from “The Great American Songbook.” Now it might start out with a bit of Gershwin, et al. (which seems just perfect as you gaze at soaring Lower Manhattan), but fairly quickly move to ear-splitting, conversation-stopping hip hop, expeditiously eliminating the romance in a much richer and cleaner but in a some ways less interesting Gotham than four decades ago. (Prepare to mostly text at such functions.)


But then, some drugstores and gyms are almost as loud. It's the Culture of Cacophony. Even some post offices have bad rock blaring.

Meanwhile, the Metro-North Railroad has closed its last bar car. While “functioning alcoholics” were part of the clientele, most patrons exercised a disciplined conviviality. Worse, a study in the British Medical Journal says that even moderate drinking is bad for you, contrary to earlier researchers’ assertions. Thus we head deeper into a healthier (?), if less fun, era.


-- Robert Whitcomb