Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct project includes a plan to build a new 30-inch or 36-inch high pressure natural gas pipeline across 45 Massachusetts towns, including Groton. This company will be applying to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a license that would give them Federal eminent domain rights for the project. If granted, such rights would allow them to take a 100-foot easement for pipeline construction from any landowner with whom they could not reach a voluntary agreement.
Granting a private, for-profit company this type of power over the property rights of so many organizations and individuals is a matter of grave concern and one that demands intense scrutiny from officials at all levels of government. And it also demands that the need for a project that could result in the taking of so much private property be determined in an open, public forum where all interested parties are invited to participate and comment.
I believe that there are two specific steps that are necessary before such eminent domain use can be justified:
- An open, public examination of New England’s current and future energy needs must occur. Such an examination must give full consideration to available conservation measures, alternative energy sources, repair of existing pipeline leaks, the effects on climate change, etc. as well as the more conventional topics of peak energy needs, plans for the decommissioning of existing power plants, etc. This open, public examination is an absolutely essential first step in the process — and it has not yet occurred.
And as the above options are being considered, it is only fair to remember that there is a plan to fund the construction of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline via a new tax on all New England electricity users. If those tens and hundreds of millions of dollars are to be extracted from our citizens, then one of the considerations should be whether the construction of a new pipeline is indeed the very best use of such funds. What if this money was applied to energy conservation, alternative energy, etc. rather than a new pipeline?
- If Step 1 above does determine that New England has energy needs that must be met through the construction of new infrastructure in the form of a new natural gas pipeline, there must once again be an open, public process where all interested parties are invited to participate in and comment upon the determination of the proper route for such a pipeline. It is simply not acceptable to have a private company determine their preferred pipeline route in a closed, secretive process and then present it as the only option available. There are obviously trade-offs concerning cost and convenience where a private company’s pipeline routing preferences might differ greatly from those of the public at large.
In summary, granting a private company the ability to override the rights of so many Massachusetts’ property owners with eminent domain powers is a gravely serious matter. Before such powers are granted, common sense demands that the necessity for taking such a step be justified in a completely open and public forum. Allowing such matters to be decided behind closed doors is simply wrong and will foster citizens’ feelings of the betrayal by and the indifference of officials at all levels of government.