Last week the state gave its final approval to the Weymouth gas compressor, which will shoot fracked natural gas into Canada for export to Europe via LNG. For all we’ve heard about our ballyhooed gas shortage, it turns out that our local utilities say that they don’t actually need the gas. Rather, the South Shore communities around this compressor facility are being asked to shoulder environmental damage so that gas companies can make a buck moving a hazardous product through their neighborhood. There will be lawsuits.
To recap: The air compressor will emit methane, 86 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2. Methane kills trees and creates smog. The facility will also emit carcinogens such as formaldehyde, in an area that is already polluted. There’s a lot of harm associated with the compressor — and to what benefit? (Is anything worth getting cancer over?)
Furthermore, it pretty much scotches the Baker administration’s chance at meeting our goals under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, as this masterful history of the approval process by Joe LaRusso points out (read the whole thing):
[The Baker administration] places its imprimatur on a fossil fuel project with the capacity to move 132.7M cubic feet of natural gas (132,700 dekatherms) through the region *each and every day *. That volume of gas will yield 2,835,000 tons of CO2 annually.
Since there are many people who seem to think that the Baker administration is kind of OK on environment and climate, and since they try to look busy, let’s step back and look at the context of this negligence:
- A new study confirms that air pollution kills people dead; and it’s getting worse. This is an acute crisis, not something off in the distance.
In 2018 alone, eroding air quality was linked to nearly 10,000 additional deaths in the U.S. relative to the 2016 benchmark, the year in which small-particle pollution reached a two-decade low, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.
…Overall, concentrations of the pollutant have risen about 5.5 percent since 2016, and the Carnegie Mellon researchers identified several reasons for this, including rising natural gas use and people doing more driving.
- And more context: Trump is killing the EPA as we speak — new rules will discard the use of science, and will eviscerate the enforcement power of the agency — even rules that have already been issued, when they come up for renewal.Paul Krugman comments:
“We don’t know exactly how this will play out, but it seems safe to say that if Trump stays in office, a lot more Americans will die as a result of his anti-environmental policies than the total number who are murdered, let alone murdered by the immigrants Trump loves to portray as a menacing, dark-skinned horde …
Today’s Republican Party isn’t just a party that has embraced crazy conspiracy theories about global warming (and everything else where the facts are inconvenient.) It has also become the party of pollution.
It is incredibly discouraging that in the age of Trumpist, actually Kochist/GOP corruption, that our administration and legislature, who claim to be responsible about environment and climate, have not responded by running as fast as possible the other way. Rather, they continue with the same corrupt, deadly, and downright suicidal ways of doing business. When corruption has written the rules of the game, the game itself is corrupt. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders know this.
Baker pretends not to know. He is not helpless, neither legally nor politically. He just doesn’t choose to fight this battle. He actually did order an independent Health Impact Assessment, which MassDEP apparently tried to hide, and then ignored. On the substance and the politics … what was all that about? Was it just a distraction? To buy time?
Who “made” the rules that Baker is supposedly bound to follow? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC is the very definition of a captured regulator, not an honest broker. FERC commissioners themselves have close ties to the gas industry. Rules of approval are tilted towards gas interests, and do not adequately take into account the interest of localities to not be polluted, nor the interests of the general public to avoid a climate crisis. Does someone say they need the gas? Yes? Good enough for FERC.
Here’s how it works at present: When FERC reviews a pipeline project, it looks to see if the developer has an agreement with someone who wishes to purchase capacity on the pipeline (called a “shipper”). FERC treats such agreements as decisive in determining if a project is needed. The theory is that, if a shipper wants to purchase capacity along a new pipeline (instead of an existing pipeline), then there must be a market demand for the new project.
As a result, since 1999 FERC has approved every proposed gas pipeline project that has had at least one precedent agreement. In the two instances where FERC rejected a project application, each lacked any precedent agreements. One of those is now back at FERC with a precedent agreement in place.
Charlie Baker, whose job is to protect his constituents, has responded instead: Just following orders. This is how corruption and outright evil win. Silence like a cancer grows.
In the absence of good will, professionalism, duty, and honor, accountability must be politically enforced. The defenders of the communities around the Weymouth compressor are doing their damndest to create political accountability for Baker’s fecklessness. I recognize that the governor is dauntingly popular; but two years from now that could be quite different. And a challenger will need something to run on. I can only imagine how people from Weymouth will respond if there is a genuine alternative to the guy who allowed their communities, their kids, to be poisoned.
Maura Healey … or anyone else … are you watching?