The state’s Department of Environmental Protection on Friday approved an air-quality permit for a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, a major victory for the contested energy project that opponents immediately vowed to challenge in court.
The decision, issued by Commissioner Martin Suuberg, calls for an air monitoring station to be built in the area to address residents’ pollution concerns, state officials said.
The ruling “relies on an evidence and science-based evaluation of air quality and health impacts associated with the proposed project, [and it] takes into account all applicable state and federal requirements,” department spokesman Ed Coletta said in a statement.
Opponents said they were outraged by the decision and called on Governor Charlie Baker to intervene.
“Permitting this dangerous and toxic facility next to neighborhoods where residents raise families, send their children to school, and build communities is deeply negligent,” said Susan Lees of Mothers Out Front, an environmental activist group. “Governor Baker must show that he has the backbone to stand up to large energy corporations and intervene in this broken permitting process.”
Alice Arena, who directs the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said her group plans to challenge the ruling in federal court. She criticized state regulators for approving a project so close to a residential neighborhood, which is near the Fore River Bridge that links Weymouth and Quincy. “We have no faith in the commissioner or the DEP in general,” she said in an interview.
In May, a department hearing officer chastised the agency for its late disclosure of air-quality results at a series of hearings. The results showed the presence of at least one carcinogen above the state’s allowable ambient level, which critics said raised questions about the validity of the permit process.
Enbridge, a Calgary, Alberta-based energy company, wants to build the compressor on four undeveloped acres as part of its Atlantic Bridge Project to expand natural gas pipeline capacity to New England and Canada. The company said the project will ease tight supplies and will comply with environmental standards.
Michael Barnes, a company spokesman, said the company is pleased with the ruling. “Algonquin Gas Transmission remains committed to working with federal, state and local agencies and stakeholders to obtain the applicable permits, construct all the facilities required for our Atlantic Bridge customers and deliver much-needed natural gas as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.
Steve Dodge, the executive director of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council, said the Weymouth site will promote “safe energy delivery.”
“This compressor station is a long overdue, sensible, and much-needed upgrade to our local energy infrastructure to ensure that the 52 percent of Massachusetts homeowners who use natural gas continue to get reliable, affordable access to this critical energy source,” Dodge said in a statement.
But Mayor Robert L. Hedlund of Weymouth said city officials were “extremely disappointed with the decision.”
“But we are not surprised given how this process has been conducted thus far,” he said in a statement. “This entire process has demonstrated that our regulatory entities seem to be beholden to industry interests.”
Two other permits for the project — concerning wetlands and waterways – are under appeal, the Environmental Protection Department said.
On Thursday, nearly 30 state senators urged Suuberg to deny the permit, saying “the residents and communities of the Fore River Basin would bear exceptionally and disproportionately greater risks than existing communities with compressor stations.”
The proposed site is within a half mile of 930 homes, they wrote.
“Pipeline expansions in one community impact the climate change goals of the entire state and are counter to the clean energy policies that we have been promoting as a body,” the legislators wrote.
State Senator Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican who signed the letter, said he’s redirecting his efforts to fighting the project’s water permit, with a decision from the state’s Office of Coastal Zone Management slated for early August. He said it was unprecedented for a compressor station to be built along a public waterway.
“I am confident that every appeal that we can possibly make will be exhausted,” he said. “The waterway is too important, and that area is of such critical economic concern.”Alison Kuznitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonKuznitz.