Though New Hampshire leaders in Washington and Concord recently gave statements expressing concern about the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, their actions have caused confusion among pipeline opponents about where they really stand.
Last week, three members of the N.H. congressional delegation and the state’s governor spoke out against the interstate pipeline, which would pass through 17 towns in southern New Hampshire.
A day later, two of the three delegation members — U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster and U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta — voted in favor of legislation that, among other things, would speed up the federal approval process for natural gas pipelines.
The bill, which originally passed the U.S. House, 249-174, hastens permitting of natural gas pipelines across public lands and the federal approval of construction of natural gas export facilities.
The North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015 would also lift the 40-year ban on crude oil exports, update the country’s electric grid and strengthen the security of the country’s energy infrastructure.
On Dec. 2, Kuster, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District, issued a statement saying she opposed the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline as proposed because “without tangible evidence of substantial economic gains to the communities that are affected, I have not seen enough evidence to justify the potential damage.”
Also that day, Guinta, a Republican who represents the 1st Congressional District, said he couldn’t support the pipeline as pitched.
“In my duty to the people I represent, I cannot support this pipeline, as planned. We still have unanswered questions,” he said.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, has proposed building the high-pressure transmission pipeline to carry fracked natural gas from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania through upstate New York, parts of northern Massachusetts and into southern New Hampshire before going to a distribution hub in eastern Massachusetts. The route would cross the Cheshire County towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials filed the project’s application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month, which has the power to approve or reject the pipeline. Company officials have asked the commission to approve the project by the fourth quarter of 2016.
“Initially I was pleased with everybody for coming out against the pipeline,” pipeline opponent Patricia A. Martin of Rindge said Wednesday. “Then I saw the vote on H.R. 8 in the U.S. House, and I was livid with Kuster mostly, but Guinta too, for voting for the bill because it does just the opposite of what we need.”
Kuster told the Union Leader Monday that her vote for the legislation was a mistake, and she had intended to vote against it.
Martin said she received an email from the congresswoman saying as much, and that Kuster had also taken action to correct the congressional record to reflect her opposition to the bill.
Guinta stands by his vote.
“I support domestic energy expansion to wean ourselves off foreign oil and to lower fuel costs here at home, while putting the proper protections in place for Granite Staters. We still have many unanswered questions about how the Kinder Morgan pipeline would affect Merrimack and Londonderry,” he said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
A version of the bill will now go before the U.S. Senate for approval. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation if it comes to him to sign.
Pipeline opponents puzzled by Hassan
In the meantime, members of the N.H. Municipal Pipeline Coalition, who are fighting the pipeline, say they’re puzzled by the statement Gov. Maggie Hassan gave last week expressing conditional opposition to the project. They said were led to believe she wouldn’t oppose the project, and were perplexed when they saw media reports that suggested she had.
Hassan’s office has tried to clear up the confusion, but in doing so, they haven’t use the word “opposed” to describe the governor’s stance.
Communications Director William Hinkle said in an emailed statement that at a Dec. 2 meeting with coalition members, the governor “reiterated that FERC and the company must work to address the concerns of affected communities, and that if they cannot do so, she does not believe the project should move forward as currently proposed.
“The Governor will continue listening to all stakeholders and urging FERC to address the concerns of the affected communities as the agency reviews the project, as well as the need to fully investigate alternatives,” he said.
Brookline Town Administrator Tad Putney, who was at the meeting, said the coalition members there asked Hassan to oppose the pipeline outright, and she declined.
That same day, Hassan responded to a reporter’s question about the pipeline saying she has “repeatedly made clear that FERC and the company must work to address the concerns of affected communities, and believe that if they cannot do so, the project should not move forward as currently proposed.”
The coalition is a group of 15 southern New Hampshire towns either along the pipeline’s proposed path, or nearby that have come together to fight the project. Members are Amherst, Brookline, Fitzwilliam, Greenville, Litchfield, Mason, Merrimack, Milford, New Ipswich, Pelham, Richmond, Rindge, Temple, Troy and Winchester.
John Kieley, who represents Temple on the commission, also attended the meeting with the governor. He, too, was perplexed by Hassan’s statement, which was reiterated in a news release from her office on Dec. 4.
He said there is an “enormous disconnect” between what Hassan has consistently said to coalition members, including at the Dec. 2 meeting, and what was reported by media on Dec. 3.
She told coalition members on Dec. 2 that she couldn’t get out ahead of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee approval processes, Kieley said. She said she had to let the proceedings run their course, he said.
While FERC has the power to approve or reject the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee decides whether Tennessee Gas Pipeline can locate the pipeline and a proposed 41,000-horsepower compressor station in the state.
“The problem with that is if you let it run its course, FERC will issue a permit, and it’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘will,’ ” Kieley said. “If the SEC tries to unduly change that, FERC will override the SEC, which they have the absolute power to do.”
By letting the approval proceedings run their course, Hassan is “rolling the dice,” he said, and “thousands of people in southern New Hampshire directly affect by this aren’t willing to roll the dice.”
Hassan, a Democrat, is running against U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., next year in a high-profile race for Ayotte’s Senate seat.
Ayotte said in a news release on Dec. 2 that she’s opposed to the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, but left open the possibility of reconsidering her stance if questions and concerns posed by residents along the pipeline’s path are sufficiently answered by federal regulators and the pipeline’s developers.