Baker: My hands were tied on compressor station

Lawmakers, mayors pound governor over approval of Weymouth gas project


GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said Monday he “basically had no choice” but to approve air quality permits for a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth given the federal rules governing the project and results of a state-authorized review.

The Baker administration on Friday approved the permits for the Enbridge Energy project, a move that was quickly and fiercely condemned by South Shore lawmakers who, with local municipal officials, had urged Baker to deny the permits because of potential health and safety impacts.

“This was an air quality permit, period, right, built around federal standards associated with this, and we did all the work,” Baker told reporters. “It’s probably the most comprehensive analysis within that framework that anybody’s done anywhere around one of these permits, and it passed.”

Baker said “other issues associated with” the project like noise concerns have to do with decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the siting of the compressor station.

A health impact assessment ordered by Baker in 2017 and conducted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council predicted “no substantial changes in health from direct exposures from the station itself with the exception of sound levels during construction.”

Fourteen legislators and the mayors of Weymouth, Braintree, and Quincy, who last week urged Baker to deny the permits, said the review also had noted that current levels of formaldehyde and benzene in the project’s Fore River basin area are already above recommended state limits for the carcinogens.

At the compressor station site Saturday, Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund called FERC a “complete enabler of the gas industry” and said he mistakenly thought that Baker administration regulatory agencies would prove to be allies in the effort to stop the station.

Pointing to North Weymouth and the Germantown, Quincy Point, and Hough’s Neck neighborhoods in Quincy, Hedlund said, “It is frustrating for me that we have a state administration that has chosen to turn their backs on these neighborhoods.”

Hedlund called the air permit decision a “significant setback,” but added, “We continue the fight.”

Braintree Mayor Joe Sullivan told project opponents “we’re going to win this fight” and pledged the financial resources of his town to an effort that he said would include an appeal and, possibly, action in the courts.

“It may take the courts and their jurisdiction and hopefully their quality of thinking to understand that we need to keep up this effort and that’s going to cost money and we’re going to be there to support that effort,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Congressman Stephen Lynch also plans to use Congressional oversight to resist the project. “The Congress is going to have public hearings on this,” Sullivan said.

Sen. Walter Timilty of Milton said the compressor station “is the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Rep. Joan Meschino of Hull told compressor station opponents how lawmakers learned about the decision Friday.

“I was appalled by the DEP’s decision,” Meschino said. “They called each of us and the excuses that they gave on the phone — ‘Well Rep, you don’t really understand about benzene. There’s some nuances there’ — and I said, ‘Stop, just stop. Do I look that stupid?’ ”

Meschino continued, “I mean really, I understand. And what I understand and they didn’t want to hear but I told them was that I was completely appalled that in Massachusetts, that the DEP, the agency that should be looking out for us – you know governor’s administrations come and go, state representatives and senators, we come and go – DEP should be the ones with the strength of their convictions to look out for us and they failed yesterday.”

Braintree Rep. Mark Cusack said the area already has high toxin levels and does not need more. “You’re neighbors across the river in Braintree, this is a real threat to us as well,” he said. “It’s beyond idiotic what the Baker administration is allowing to happen here.”

Baker on Monday described the compressor station as “a federal issue under federal law,” with “a series of roles” for the state that all fall “under a federal rubric.”

He said the air quality testing program his administration put together was broad and comprehensive, and noted that the state “ended up in a legal dispute” with Enbridge in federal court over the proposed size, scale and timing of the testing.

“We worked with the attorney general and we eventually settled with them on the terms associated with our air quality permit, and the results came back,” Baker said. “We released the results on the 4th. Under the settlement, we were required to make a decision on the permits by the 11th, and there were seven major elements associated with the permit, and they passed on all seven, and at that point in time, given the federal rules we were operating under and all the rest, and the results of our very comprehensive review, we basically had no choice other than to grant it.”

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Katie Lannan

State House News Service
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State lawmakers from outside the region have also voiced opposition to the compressor station and the granting of the air quality permits.

“This expansion of the pipelines would introduce new toxins to thousands of residents living in the South Shore,” Andover Rep. Tram Nguyen tweeted Sunday night. “We need to stand with the people and not corporate interests!”