29 senators urge DEP to block Weymouth gas facility

5 of 6 Republicans signed letter to Baker administration

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Nearly three-quarters of the Senate penned a letter Thursday urging the Department of Environmental Protection commissioner to rescind approval for a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, a significant escalation from what had been mostly staunch local opposition.

The two-and-a-half page letter, signed with bipartisan support by 29 of the Senate’s 40 members, asks DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg to reject the proposal. It was released one day before his final decision on whether to uphold an air quality permit under appeal is due.

Warning that “public trust is lost” after the lengthy permitting process that saw outcry from environmental and health experts, the senators said the compressor plans sought by Algonquin Gas Transmission are a threat “to the Commonwealth as a whole” and could set a “dangerous precedent” for siting such facilities.

“The administrative proceedings surrounding the Weymouth compressor station application are fraught with errors, inaccuracies, and obstructions,” senators wrote. “Because of this, combined with the overall environmental and public health implications of the project, we believe that the DEP should rescind all permits pertaining to Algonquin’s application predicated upon the many permitting appeals filed by citizen groups and affected municipalities, and reevaluate the proposal in light of the facts and in a publicly transparent fashion.”

“As a Commonwealth, we should all be in approval before moving forward with something as precedent-setting as this,” they continued.

Four of Weymouth Sen. Patrick O’Connor’s five Republican colleagues — all except Sen. Ryan Fattman of Sutton — signed the letter, as did Sen. Anne Gobi, who chairs the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and Sen. Joanne Comerford, who co-chairs the Public Health Committee.

Michael Barrett, the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, did not sign the letter, nor did Senate President Karen Spilka.

Senate leadership split on supporting the effort. Spilka, President Pro Tempore William Brownsberger and Assistant Majority Leader Joan Lovely did not sign, while Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler and Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico did.

The project has drawn strong local opposition since being proposed. The site that Enbridge selected lies right on the water in a densely populated area, with 930 homes within a half-mile radius — some of which are protected environmental justice communities — and both a school and a heavily traveled bridge nearby.

South Shore lawmakers have long opposed the proposal, which energy giant Enbridge is seeking as part of its Atlantic Bridge gas pipeline, and recently have pushed legislation to require air-monitoring near the site or to prevent compressors from being sited in such areas.

Thursday’s letter, though, indicates a far broader consensus on the topic. Led by O’Connor and Quincy Democrat John Keenan, senators criticized the project as not only a dangerous proposal for the Fore River region but one that runs counter to attempts to address climate change.

Lawmakers slammed the DEP itself following a chaotic appeal process that saw the department acknowledge its permitting was based on incomplete air-quality test results and that it failed to disclose relevant data to other parties.

DEP hearing officer Jane Rothchild recommended that Suuberg keep the air-quality permit in place.

While she called the process “unfair” to the residents and communities of Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, and Hingham that filed the appeal, Rothchild said the department only considers a facility’s operations in its permitting process, not existing conditions at the site, and should therefore uphold its approval.

“It does not appear that any concentration of toxic or cancer-causing pollutants would warrant action by the DEP,” senators wrote Thursday. “Instead, it is clear that the residents and communities of the Fore River Basin would bear exceptionally and disproportionally greater risks than existing communities with compressor stations, and that their pleas for justice are falling on deaf ears.”

Following Rothchild’s recommendation, Suuberg must make a final ruling on the permit by Friday. A DEP spokesman said earlier Thursday that the decision had not yet been made and could not be reached for follow-up comment on the letter.

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Chris Lisinski

Reporter, State House News Service
Appellants have said they plan to appeal any approval for the facility in court.