Berkshire climate group to hold pipeline opposition forum

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PITTSFIELD >> Opponents of Kinder Morgan's proposed $5 billion, 429-mile pipeline connecting natural gas supplies from southwestern Pennsylvania through New York state to eastern Massachusetts are gearing up to outline their viewpoints.

The Berkshires chapter of 350MA, a statewide climate action network, is holding a free public forum from 9:30 to 12:30 Saturday at the ITAM Lodge, 93 Waubeek Road.

"Pipeline Education & the Big Picture" is designed to present the case against the Northeast Energy Direct project, which — if approved by federal regulators next year — would pass through portions of seven Berkshire towns along existing utility corridors in Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor.

It would extend through the Pioneer Valley, loop north into southern New Hampshire and re-enter Massachusetts, terminating in Dracut, near Lowell.

"Our primary mission is to educate the public and transition our economy toward one that takes into account the looming climate crisis, to oppose pipeline infrastructure and support renewables," said Arnold Piacentini, of Richmond, the 350MA-Berkshires treasurer.

Meanwhile, opponents representing 24 organizations from Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire announced on Thursday that they have formed the StopNED Coalition to coordinate anti-pipeline efforts.

Speakers at the Saturday forum include Pittsfield resident Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Cummington-based Rosemary Wessel of nofrackedhassinmass.org, Jim Cutler of the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network (massplan.org), Linda Leeds of FrackbustersNY and five members of the 350MA-Berkshires group, including Piacentini, Ellie Johnston, Stu Besnoff, Judy Eddy and Gary Stoller.

"We're not just saying 'ban the pipeline,' " said Eddy, a West Stockbridge resident and a coordinator of 350MA-Berkshires. "Our lineup includes impressive experts whose overarching idea is that instead of building out more fossil fuel infrastructure, we need to put billions of dollars into initiatives to address climate change."

"People don't understand the impact of these pipeline projects on the county, the economy, public health and tourism," she said. "This is bigger than 'I don't want it in my backyard.' "

"Our main thrust is to oppose the Kinder Morgan proposal," said Piacentini, who will moderate the Saturday forum.

Asked whether the group had invited Kinder Morgan officials or other pipeline supporters to the Saturday event, Piacentini replied: "We specifically disinvited Kinder Morgan, we know their spiel, it's pretty scripted and doesn't tell the real story about the dangers of pipeline infrastructure."

He also contended that the pipeline company leaders "evade questions, they don't have a seat at our table, they just don't fit in."

Piacentini pointed out that pipeline supporters, including the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and 1Berkshires, have been invited to attend the Saturday conference, though not as panelists.

He is also seeking support from local unions that have lined up behind the Kinder Morgan proposal so far.

Eddy labeled arguments favoring the pipeline as a solution to electricity-generating shortfalls as "scare tactics. There's a lot going on with that message that's not based on fact."

She also alleged that Kinder Morgan officials "lie to people, they sugarcoat the picture."

The 350MA-Berkshires group meets at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Pittsfield and is "an incredibly active group" of over 400 people on its e-mail list and at least 50 who attend the monthly sessions, Eddy said. She noted that they also oppose Kinder Morgan's Connecticut Expansion Project that passes through Sandisfield.

Piacentini explained that the organization is not affiliated with 350.org, "an international grass-roots movement seeking to raise awareness of the need to decrease carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million," according to its website. The organization was co-founded by environmental educator and author Bill McKibben of northern Vermont.

But 350MA, which has 10 regional organizations across Massachusetts, was named in support of that agenda, Piacentini said.

Separately, Eastern New York pipeline opponents plan a forum at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5, at the Stephentown Town Hall.

Kinder Morgan has set two open houses for the public — at BCC in Pittsfield on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 6 p.m., preceded by a session at the New Lebanon, N.Y., Junior-Senior High School at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 9.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

What: Pipeline Education & the Big Picture: a free educational forum for the community organized by the Kinder Morgan pipeline project opposition group 350MA-Berkshires

When: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: ITAM Lodge, 93 Waubeek Road, Pittsfield.

Other Upcoming Meetings

Feb. 5, 6 p.m.: Pipeline Public Forum, Town Hall, 26 Grange Hall Road, Stephentown, N.Y., organized by Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline

Feb. 9, 6 p.m.: Kinder Morgan Open House, New Lebanon, N.Y. Junior-Senior High School, 14665 NY Route 22

Feb. 10, 6 p.m.: Kinder Morgan Open House, BCC Cafeteria, 1350 West St., Pittsfield.


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