Enbridge just scored three key victories, one after the other, in its epic effort to build a natural-gas compressor in Weymouth.
But the pipeline company might want to keep the champagne on ice. Enbridge and its local partners still want help from the Legislature for future natural gas expansion — and the blowback in Weymouth could hamper those efforts on Beacon Hill.
It’s been an eventful few weeks in the Fore River fight. In late December, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled against opponents of the compressor station. Then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rubber-stamped an extension, continuing an approval for another two years. And late last week, two state agencies issued a long-awaited report that basically said the project would not be likely to cause negative health effects among nearby residents.
Local critics say the report helps set the stage for the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue an air-quality permit by the end of the week, in time for a Jan. 11 deadline. Opponents sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker on Monday, calling his administration’s health impact assessment flawed, and urging him to block the air permit approval. On Wednesday, a group of 14 South Shore lawmakers sent a more detailed rejection request to Baker. Weymouth Mayor Bob Hedlund, a fierce foe, submitted one, as well.
Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station has planned a rally near the site for Saturday. If the DEP rejects the air permit, the event will be used to thank Baker. If the DEP issues the permit, it becomes a protest. Critics hope for the former, but expect the latter.
The National Grid lockout is over, and nearly everyone in the Merrimack Valley has heat again. But there’s no clear resolution yet for the proposed Fore River compressor, part of the larger Enbridge project known as Atlantic Bridge.
An Enbridge spokesman says it expects the entire Atlantic Bridge project to be fully operational by mid-2020. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. The opposition to this portion shows no sign of backing down.
Enbridge says Atlantic Bridge will bring much-need gas supplies into New England and coastal Canada; the compressor will help push gas through an existing underwater pipeline to the North Shore. But critics say any public benefits from the compressor do not outweigh the potential impacts on health and property values from yet another big industrial facility in the Fore River basin. Moreover, they suspect Enbridge’s end game is to export some of that gas overseas; Enbridge repeatedly denies it.
It’s probably a good thing for Baker that these decisions come after the election, not before.
But state lawmakers, who face voters again in nearly two years, could play a crucial role in future natural gas projects.
Enbridge and business partners Eversource and National Grid have not given up their quest for legislative help to finance a pipeline expansion. Business groups say the region needs more gas, in part to keep electricity prices in check. (Much of New England’s power comes from natural gas-fired plants.)
In particular, the industry wants to be able to charge electric ratepayers for gas pipeline expansions. Lawmakers in the state House and Senate have been cold to the idea.
Many of these natural gas protests may be local in nature — another fight is ramping up in Agawam, because of an expansion proposal there — but state lawmakers all have colleagues who have been affected.
They also know that the next time, it could be their district facing a compressor, an LNG tank, or a new pipeline. So another rally just makes natural gas a tougher sell at the State House.Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com.