To the editor of THE EAGLE:
As the Tennessee Gas pipeline controversy winds its way through Western Massachusetts we all find there is plenty of reason for bad feelings, finger-pointing and frustration. As a resident of Dalton, I’ve experienced the whole range of these over the past several weeks. But rather than dwell on the specifics of who is responsible for the results in each town, it seems important to review the process and take some valuable lessons from our experience with Big Energy.
Big Energy executives are quite skilled at identifying ways to increase profits while minimizing risks. Big Energy strategizes over how to turn an import market, like the U.S, into an export market as fossil fuel extraction flourishes in this country and exports become more lucrative.
Most citizens recognize the need for pipelines and they are mostly unnoticed until something goes wrong. It is fairly easy to convince folks that adding "just another pipeline’’ to the mix is reasonable to support a growing economy. More gas means more jobs and cheaper gas. It’s easy to support the pipeline justification that Big Energy presents. It’s difficult to look behind the curtain and see what’s really going on.
Big Energy creates a false context on which it bases its request for an additional pipeline. Officials approached for permission to survey open the door without question, confident they understand the situation. It’s just another mundane task to be performed at the weekly Select Board meeting. [Dalton has now rescinded its permission.]
Big Energy collects all of its permission slips to build a pipeline through Massachusetts. It takes its pile of permission slips to Washington and inform those folks that they encountered no opposition to this project. But it turns out this pipeline is not the same as all the others. It is way bigger, way more dangerous, way more expensive and will not benefit the community.
The citizens who only recently became aware of the potential for the pipeline construction in their town have done some research and they do not want this to happen in their town, or any town. What are these concerned citizens to do? Special town meetings are required, petitions need to be collected, and Select Board appeals need to be prepared. The townspeople gather with their leaders time and again to satisfy governmental procedural requirements and argue their case while the pipeline survey goes on uninterrupted in the backyard. The town becomes divided against itself as Big Energy pursues its profits. Only the most naive among us can believe that Big Energy is not very skilled in creating this context in which it gets what it wants.
Perhaps there is are lessons for each of us as we move through a world governed less by public consensus and more by Big Energy and large corporations. As citizens, we need to more closely monitor what happens in our town’s government. Government officials need to be more skeptical about requests from large corporations, particularly Big Energy and do some research before approving each request.
In the best case it saves a huge amount of time and effort on the part of a town’s citizens and government undoing a decision. In any case it leaves us all more confident that government and citizens are working together for the benefit of the communities.