Wisely addressing pipeline leak issue
To the editor:
Thank you to Pittsfield's local and state elected officials for supporting continued reforms of our aging gas distribution pipeline systems.
I wanted to offer clarity on the current situation and why this is a critical step for protecting both consumers and our environment. In 2014, Massachusetts passed a public safety law designed to accelerate replacement and repair of local gas lines — some of which have been around since the late 1800s. Utilities were given extra financing, a "carrot," to speed up targeted infrastructure work.
Thanks to leadership from state Senator Benjamin Downing and his colleagues, the final law also included transparency measures which required reports of leak locations as well as climate change pollution. The Department of Public Utilities declined to inform municipalities that this information was available, so advocates went ahead and mapped them as a public service: www.heetma.org/squeaky-leak/natural-gas-leaks-maps/.
Utilities have previously collected revenue for lost gas without being accountable for how that money is spent. Ratepayers have effectively been paying to kill trees and heat up the planet in addition to paying for their own gas consumption. States like Pennsylvania and Texas have cracked down on local gas utilities by reining in such rate collections, and Massachusetts should use the same "stick."
Many of the state's cities and towns have faced nuisance when road and utility repair schedules were uncoordinated and redundant repairs created delay. Others have sought to expand greenspace in their communities — in certain cases, using penalty payments from utilities whose energy portfolio fails to meet state standards for clean electricity — only to find that trees they planted were in ill health, situated over leaking gas lines.
To address the first problem, we have sought to make statewide a mandate for utilities to coordinate with municipalities when roads are opened up to fix leaks. This process would be more efficient, capturing nonhazardous — but still costly — leaks not covered by last year's law in a reasonable manner.
Regarding the latter, we hope our state government will assume the responsibility of communicating to municipalities the status of their underground infrastructure, while also making that information transparent so stakeholders can continue to innovate best practices for making our communities more sustainable and safer.
As the region faces great changes in energy supply, we believe these policies are simply common sense.