In response to residents of the South Shore complaining about the proposed Enbridge gas compressor, in 2018 Gov. Baker threw them a bone: A Health Impact Assessment, to be finished before the permitting process in January 2019. In a weird happenstance, the HIA was bid on and performed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a governmental agency which promotes smart growth in Greater Boston. (The MAPC is also, in fact, an interested party in the Weymouth compressor, and they have stated their opposition to the project on environmental/public health, and climate grounds. Got that?)
Anyway MAPC did the Health Impact Assessment for the Governor, based on his very precise instructions (well, probably those of Mass. DEP). And then MAPC had another outside group — from London UK! — evaluate their evaluation.
And while this outside group found that MAPC’s assessment was adequate by international standards … it also found evidence that the Governor had sought to restrict its scope and thereby weaken its findings. The elements tagged as deficient by the evaluator were precisely the issues that South Shore residents had brought up ad nauseam:
- What are the health effects if it malfunctions?
- What about climate effects?
- Shouldn’t one have to consider the cumulative effect of all the pollutants — not just the marginal contribution of the gas compressor? (Your lungs don’t care what pollutants were there already vs. what’s new.)
- Was special effort made to engage environmental justice communities — the ones that usually get dumped on without asking?
- Aren’t some of these pollutants actually harmful “below regulatory thresholds”? Should we talk about that?
From MAPC’s commentary [my emphasis in bold]:
PHD [the evaluator] found that the HIA was limited by Governor Baker’s Directive, which narrowed the HIA’s scope and split the air quality assessment from other health-relevant issues, including public safety in the case of malfunction and impacts on climate. Furthermore, the time allocated to complete the HIA, and the resources made available for that purpose, were highly constrained.
… in the future, we [MAPC] will be less likely to undertake a project where the scope is artificially constrained by directive, time, or money, unless we can adequately ensure through other means that all relevant issues will be analyzed.
I just have to wonder when some of this is going to stick to Governor Baker. His hands weren’t tied; his fingerprints are all over this thing.