Gubernatorial candidates join compressor station opposition

Activist Andrea Honore said a greater number of people are joining her lately in her regular sit-ins at Gov. Charlie Baker's office to oppose the proposed Weymouth natural gas compressor station.

BOSTON — Candidate for governor Setti Warren visited the site of a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth on Tuesday and afterwards issued a statement calling the Spectra Energy project a "mistake for Massachusetts" and chiding Gov. Charlie Baker for not opposing it.

Former Patrick administration budget chief Jay Gonzalez of Needham and environmental activist Robert Massie of Somerville are competing against Warren for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Earlier this month, Gonzalez issued a statement opposing the project and Massie, project opponents say, has already visited the site and opposes the station's construction.

"If something goes wrong at the compressor station, thousands of people who live a short distance away could be at risk," Warren said. "Even if the compressor station works as planned, it will pump out harmful greenhouse gasses and contribute to prolonging our dependence on fossil fuels. In any event, this compressor station is not going to help the people of Massachusetts one bit. For the Commonwealth, this bad idea is all risk, and little gain."

Baker's teams — both his political operation and his State House office — declined to comment, but the compressor station is an issue that has dogged the governor at the State House, during his travels, and during appearances on radio call-in shows.

The station would be located near a densely populated area in North Weymouth and next to an MWRA sewage pump and water treatment facility. Spectra Energy, which is merging with Enbridge, is pressing to build the station as Massachusetts continues to rely heavily on natural gas.

Opponents object to the noise and pollution expected from the station, and claim the lack of a buffer zone increases danger in the event of leaks or an accident.

Opponents of the project have pressured Baker to join them in resisting it, organizing a large protest last year when Baker visited Weymouth.

The governor has urged project opponents to lobby the federal government and has not joined the call for the project's defeat.

"We've talked about this before, and you really ought to make sure you communicate those postcards to your federal representatives," Baker told a radio caller who pressed him last winter. "In the end, these decisions get made by the federal government. The state has a minor role to play, but in the end, if the federal government believes that certain energy capacity decisions with respect to transmission are in the national interest, it's their call. I've talked with some of the folks at the federal level about this, but that's really where these decisions get made, they don't get made at the state level."

Setti Warren said "the Baker administration's support of this compressor station is taking us in the wrong direction and Gov. Baker's refusal to meet with residents who are impacted by it is even worse."

He noted that Andrea Honore, with whom he toured the site on Tuesday, had visited the governor's office on her lunch break for 71 days and that Baker has "refused to talk to her about the compressor station."

The News Service caught up with Honore inside the governor's office lobby on Wednesday and she said Baker has walked past her five times but they have never discussed the issue. Honore, who lives in East Weymouth and works in Boston, said she's had numerous talks with Baker's staff and said the governor "definitely" knows who she is. If the station is built, it will lead to Access Northeast pipeline issues in 23 communities, Honore predicted.

"The compressor's the linchpin of everything," she said, noting her regular visits to Baker's office, which she has publicized on a blog, have spurred other activists from places like Arlington, Jamaica Plain, and Hingham to occasionally join her at the State House in a show of support.

"People started to ask if they could join me. I come every workday for 15 minutes," said Honore, 46, who explained she's been involved in local education funding debates but nothing on this scale.

Sen. Patrick O'Connor, a Weymouth Republican, said in February that the area's entire delegation is opposed to the compressor station and the governor has been responsive to him.

"The governor has taken every single conversation that I've had," said O'Connor, who said the federal energy lobby has made it difficult to challenge energy companies through the regulatory process. He said, "We're in a really bad spot here."

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey last week expressed "serious concerns" about the compressor station and in a letter urged the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to conduct a risk assessment before construction begins.

The senators are suggesting that the station may violate federal pipeline safety regulations that state compressor stations "must be far enough away from adjacent property, not under control of the operator, to minimize the possibility of fire being communicated to the compressor building from structures on adjacent property." Warren and Markey said the MWRA facility is less than one tenth of a mile away from the station site.

The MWRA does not appear fazed by the compressor station.

"We're aware that it's there. We don't really have a position one way or the other," MWRA spokeswoman Ria Convery told the News Service on Wednesday.

Asked whether the MWRA shares the safety concerns of project opponents, Convery said, "We've got facilities all over the place. It's no different than any other location to us."

Gonzalez on June 13 issued a statement opposing the compressor station.

"I am opposed to new natural gas pipelines, including related infrastructure such as compressor stations. The proposed compressor station in Weymouth has the potential to create serious environmental, economic and safety impacts on the South Shore and its families. I am firmly committed to reducing the Commonwealth's reliance on fossil fuels through a combination of energy efficiency and expanded use of renewables," he said.

On Wednesday, Gonzalez told the News Service he did his own research and spoke with opponents before developing a position a few weeks ago, but hopes to schedule a time to visit the site in the future.

"I think we need to stop expanding natural gas pipeline infrastructure, including compressor stations that are just furthering our dependence on fossil fuels," he told the News Service.

The candidate said the state should be "much more aggressive" in accelerating its transition to renewable energy sources, and he supports carbon pricing. "It's not right for that community, but it's also not right for our state and our future. We should be doing everything we can to stop it, and this is another example when Governor Baker just throws up his hands," Gonzalez said.

Setti Warren circulated an email to his supporters Wednesday to promote Honore's advocacy and his own willingness to meet with her.

"When Andrea laid out maps, tables, and figures she and her fellow activists had compiled, I realized just how dangerous this project will be to the community. She showed me how close the compressor station will be to a major bridge, a beautiful park, and a water filtration plant that serves thousands of homes across the south shore," Setti Warren wrote.

According to state officials, the state Department of Public Utilities and the state Energy Facilities Siting Board do not regulate or approve the construction of compressor stations as they are part of the interstate pipeline system regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The Weymouth station was approved by FERC in late January and the city of Weymouth has appealed for a rehearing with FERC.

MassDEP issued a wetlands approval for the project, according to the state, but that has been appealed to its appeals office and the appeal has been stayed until FERC or a federal court determines that Weymouth Conservation Commission's denial of the project under a local wetland regulation is preempted under the federal Natural Gas Act.

The project also requires a Chapter 91 license since it is located on filled tidelands, and on May 17 the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a written determination which can be appealed to its appeals office. The final license will not be issued until the wetlands appeal is resolved.

With the issuance of the Chapter 91 determination, the Coastal Zone Management Office will formally resume its "federal consistency review," officials say.

Spectra has also filed for an air quality permit, which included a period for public comment, and the final permit is expected to be issued in two to three months, and is also subject to appeal.

Honore said she was spurred to become more active after FERC gave the station project conditional approval, saying she believed the state Energy Facilities Siting Board at that time could have requested a rehearing.

"That made me angry," she said. "It isn't just a federal issue."

Matt Murphy contributed reporting.