The Weymouth Compressor case added a few new wild plot twists in the last fortnight. On substantive, process, and political grounds, this is a growing embarrassment for MassDEP — and for Baker himself.
This case is a big deal, for a number of reasons:
- Gas infrastructure is one of climate activists’ major targets in the battle against fossil fuel buildout;
- Local municipalities (Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, etc) are dead-set against it, due to the risk of explosion and carcinogenic pollution exacerbating an already polluted area;
- The Baker administration is used to polishing the climate apple, while playing footsie with our powerful fossil interest lobby. I wonder if seeing the limits of “combo platter” energy politics.
As mentioned last week, after close of business on Day 2 of a three-day hearing, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection released 759 pages of previously unseen pollution measurements, taken from the site of the proposed compressor by DEP’s contractor Alpha. The document reveals already dangerous levels of several pollutants, including 1,3 butadiene, a rather nasty carcinogen.
MassDEP knew (or should have known) that there were elevated levels of pollutants when it issued the Health Impact Assessment in early January. This document dump further demonstrates how they blundered into issuing the HIA without full information. On Monday, the adjudicator for the appeal, Jane Rothchild*, threatened MassDEP with sanctions [fines, apparently — but who pays?] for withholding the data; and insisted on names and dates for when MassDEP received the information.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which facilitated the original Health Impact Assessment, released a strong statement of concern — including the climate impact:
We have previously stated our opposition to the proposed station due to potential public safety risks and threats to our region’s climate resiliency. If the new data indicate air quality concerns that already exceed health protective limits, the permit process should immediately pause, during which time we encourage the regulatory authorities to consider: a) the cumulative load of toxics, including both current levels plus those that arise from new sources; b) potential public safety impacts on the surrounding communities, in the event that the compressor and surrounding infrastructure fail to operate according to industry standards; and c) the overall impact of the compressor on greenhouse gas emissions, and the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act.
In other words, this process has hit a few snags. And I think we’re getting close to grinding this thing to a halt.
On the substance: The revealed pollution measurements reinforce that the Fore River basin in Weymouth is already an “environmental justice community”. To translate from enviro-speak, that means they’ve been getting [dumped] on and told it was raining: “Flint on the Fore River,” per BC Public Health prof Philip Landrigan. The compressor can only make things worse, emitting pollutants like formaldehyde, especially at startup and shutdown of the turbine. And any reader of this site knows that natural gas is a powerful greenhouse gas, whose further use is to be avoided.
The state’s permitting process has been Kafka-cum-pro-wrestling: Hazily-defined rules; the late admission of foreign objects; and an apparently pre-determined outcome. At a number of points in the process, MassDEP should have been aware of the pre-existing pollution at the site, and ought to have taken that into account. At the very least, all data available to MassDEP — or known to exist — should have been immediately shared with the petitioners.
And the political appearances are getting worse and worse for Baker, who had evasively declared the matter out of his hands. Baker has employed his best let’s-be-reasonable bureaucratic face, saying on one hand that it’s up to the Federal Government (ie. the very fossil-friendly FERC); while on the other hand declaring, “”People who have issues with the site, they should absolutely file those and we’ll include those as part of the record and we’ll get a serious review.” Well, which is it? Does the state issue its own permit, or not?
If the combo platter includes 1,3 butadiene … send it back.
*To give you an idea of how uncomfortably cozy this world is: Rothchild used to work under lawyer Ralph Child at MassDEP in the 1990s. Child, now at Mintz Levin, has been retained by pipeline company Enbridge for these very hearings. Awkward! In addition, recently departed Energy and Environment Secretary Matt Beaton is now going to work for TRC, a contractor for … Enbridge!