BOSTON — The fight against natural gas pipelines in Massachusetts has not subsided in the wake of Kinder Morgan's suspension of work on its controversial $3.3 billion Northeast Energy Direct project.
More than 150 anti-pipeline protesters gathered outside the Statehouse Tuesday to call for an end to other proposed pipelines in the state, their chants of "No to pipelines" and "Yes to clean energy" drowning out the notes of "America the Beautiful" playing from a Laborers International Union of North America truck that displayed pro-pipeline messages while waiting in traffic nearby.
In late April, Kinder Morgan said it would suspend spending and construction on a pipeline that would have run through parts of Massachusetts. The company cited inadequate commitments from prospective customers. In July 2015, the company's board had authorized Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company to move forward with a big investment in pipeline capacity from Wright, New York to Dracut.
Kathryn Eiseman of the Massachusetts Pipe Line Awareness Network told ralliers that the suspension marked "a milestone and a victory, but not yet a complete victory."
Eiseman said her group has filed a motion with federal energy regulators seeking full denial of the Northeast Direct project.
"We need a clean break from that," she said, also speaking against Kinder Morgan's Connecticut Expansion project that would bring a 3.8-mile pipeline loop to Sandisfield.
Activists vowed to stop Spectra Energy's West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline project and said they have trained 300 volunteers who are willing to risk arrest by physically halting work at construction sites. Forty-four have been arrested so far, several of whom joined the State House protest, said Marla Marcum of the group Resist the Pipeline.
"It's important for these people who got in the way with their bodies to still show up here and talk to these folks and ask them to use the power that they have in that building to do what they can to stand up for us," Marcum said. "But the way that the system is rigged, they can't actually do everything we need."
The laborers union truck drove by the rally in multiple loops, bearing signs with messages including "LiUNA! supports pipelines that help secure our energy future" and "Access Northeast means jobs." A project of Eversource Energy, National Grid, and Spectra, the Access Northeast Pipeline would run through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
After the demonstration, protesters streamed into the State House, where many attended a Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change hearing on the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline and the state's energy future.
House lawmakers have spent months working on an omnibus energy bill that is expected to encourage additional offshore wind and hydropower as the state looks to diversify its energy portfolio.
"This is a critical moment for our state's energy future and we know that we need to stand united, and that's why we've come together today," Emily Kirkland, the director of organizing at 350 Mass, said. "Over the next few weeks and months, our legislators will debate an energy bill that could determine our future for decades to come. That bill will either subsidize new pipelines or will promote solar, wind and the clean energy we need."
Protesters said they are concerned that the energy bill could contain language calling for electric ratepayers to subsidize the cost of new gas pipelines through a monthly fee. According to protest organizers Mass Power Forward, a coalition of more than 150 groups from across the state, 97 House lawmakers have signed a letter opposing such a provision.
Demonstrators held up a sign spelling out Mass Power Forward's "energy policy demands," which also include offshore wind and solar energy, support for communities "with polluting power plants," and gas leak repairs.
The coalition is calling for the energy bill to require procurement of at least 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind, an elimination of a cap on the amount of solar power that can be sold back to the grid and the restoration of retail compensation rates for low-income and community-shared solar projects.
Its members also support legislation that would fund post-closure activities at nuclear power stations (S 1798) and direct the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to assess and report on the preparedness plans for a radiological accident at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth and New Hampshire's Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant (H 2167).
Entergy Corp. announced in April that it plans to refuel Pilgrim in 2017 and then cease operations there in 2019. Citing safety concerns, critics have been calling for years for closure of the plant, a major supplier of carbon-free energy for the region.