The great pipeline debate

We heat our homes and light our cities using fuels that come primarily from outside New England, which is part of the reason our prices are among the highest in the country.

But every now and then, like during the severe cold snap in late December and early January, things get really bad. The severe cold meant most of the natural gas coming into the region had to go for heating, which left little available for electric power generation. The price of natural gas in New England skyrocketed — at one point it was the highest in the world. Power generators shifted to lower-priced but more environmentally damaging coal and oil. We burned more than 2 million barrels of oil during a 15-day period.

The fallout from that cold snap has rekindled one of the great policy debates of our time. Should we expand the capacity of natural gas pipelines coming into the region, and eliminate the occasional shortages and their accompanying price spikes? Or should we say no to more pipelines carrying fossil fuels, and either accept the occasional shortage (and the higher costs that come with them) or find ways to lessen their impact until we reach a clean energy future.

There are no easy answers here because there are too many variables, too many unknowns. How soon will our clean energy future arrive? Will electricity demand, which is slowing, increase as we electrify our transportation sector? How will new technologies, such as offshore wind and electricity storage, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels? And, most importantly, what will the weather be like in the future?

The Baker administration and the business community are the chief proponents of building new pipeline capacity. They had the upper hand until August 2016, when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Baker administration lacked the legal authority to require electric ratepayers to finance a natural gas pipeline. Since then, the anti-pipeline forces have gained steam, led by environmental advocates and liberals in the state Senate who say it makes no sense to build a road to a clean energy future while simultaneously building a pipeline to fracked gas in Pennsylvania.

Last month, several of the state’s leading business groups formed the Coalition for Sustainable Energy in a bid to rekind the pipeline debate. The Boston Globe editorial page has also jumped into the fray, with a series of pieces decrying some of the interim fixes (Russian LNG and LNG by train car) suggested to deal with the occasional shortage of pipeline gas. In an editorial on Sunday, the Globe condemned the “faddish anti-pipeline politics on Beacon Hill” and the “abstinence-only ideology” of Sens. Jamie Eldridge of Acton and Marc Pacheco of Taunton.

“Massachusetts needs more clean energy,” the Globe said. “It also needs to limit the damage from its fossil fuel use, through investments that should include pipelines to finish the work of displacing dirtier fossil fuel sources like oil, coal, and imported LNG. And it needs to reject the rhetoric that pits encouraging renewables and reducing fossil fuel-related emissions against each other, as if the Commonwealth can’t pursue both.”

This week’s Codcast features representatives from the two opposing camps — Robert Rio, the senior vice president of government affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, one of the founding members of the Coalition for Sustainable Energy, and Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, the president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, which also represents many members of the business community. Listen and get up to speed.



Hillary Chabot ticks off the big winners of salary boosts that came with the shuffle of Senate leadership posts set in motion by former president Stan Rosenberg stepping down from the chamber’s top job. (Boston Herald)

Alan Solomont and Arielle Jennings push legislation mandating civics education in schools, saying it makes sense to train citizens one student at a time. (CommonWealth)

Spending on pot lobbying continues to grow on Beacon Hill. (Eagle-Tribune)


Poorer neighborhoods of Boston suffer with more poorly maintained sidewalks than wealthier enclaves. (Boston Globe)

The city of Lawrence is threatening to seize the historic Bay State building after its owners refuse to bring it into compliance with building codes. (Eagle-Tribune)

Weighing in on the proposed renaming of Yawkey Way (which he thinks is a horrible idea), Joe Fitzgerald unloads on Red Sox owner (and Globe publisher) John Henry, calling him a “Johnny-come-lately who, hungering for attention, has become a self-appointed paragon of virtue.” (Boston Herald)


With Democratic help, the US Senate is preparing to pare back the sweeping Dodd-Frank regulations passed after the 2008 financial crisis. (Washington Post)

The Trump administration has not had a lot of success, however, in ridding the federal government of agencies it set out to eliminate. (Boston Globe)

President Trump does, indeed, have a sense of humor. (U.S. News & World Report)

Writer Ezra Dyer offers some thoughtful reflections on gun control, but oddly mixes it with glib comments about guys with “bowl cuts.” (Boston Globe)


Retiring Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless and Gov. Charlie Baker put Capeless’s No. 2 in charge, giving him a leg up in the fall election. (CommonWealth) DA races in several other counties are seeing a rise in liberal contenders and challengers. (Boston Globe)

Joe Battenfeld says the mounting series of problems at the State Police could become a reelection point of vulnerability for Gov. Charlie Baker. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, Howie Carr catches Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on her cellphone and asks her uncomfortable questions about a trooper from Polito’s hometown of Shrewsbury who somehow landed on the force despite being a co-conspirator in a major drug case that landed her then-boyfriend in prison. (Boston Herald)

US Rep. Seth Moulton says he’s no hypocrite and will remain neutral in the Democratic primary race between US Rep. Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley. (CommonWealth) The Capuano-Pressley showdown gets some national attention in Sunday’s New York Times.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s three Republican challengers say they’re juiced about the race because, not in spite, of her national profile. (Boston Globe)


Scott Kirsner says the state’s approach to the issue of non-compete agreements is a gift to big companies that hurts the start-up sector. (Boston Globe)

IHeartMedia, the largest radio broadcaster in the country, prepares a bankruptcy filing. (Bloomberg)

Barnstable County officials have ordered, without explanation, the AmeriCorps program to find another home for its volunteers who have been housed in a county-owned house in Bourne for more than two decades. (Cape Cod Times)


Kurt Steinberg, the executive vice president of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, is named president of Montserrat College in Beverly. (Salem News)

A Stoughton French teacher was fired for showing her class an ultrasound device used to defend against attacking dogs. Students and administrators initially believed the device was a Taser. (The Enterprise)

Wareham officials are looking to shut an elementary school and eliminate 33 positions to try to close a growing deficit in the school budget. (Wareham Courier)


State initiatives to bring back Obamacare’s individual mandate haven’t gained traction. (Governing) A New York Times story suggests otherwise.

Shriners Hospital for Children may close or pare back the well-known burn unit at its Boston hospital. (Boston Globe)


Middleboro officials expressed deep concern over the state’s revised plan to run South Coast Rail through the town, saying the environmental impact report downplayed traffic concerns and was drafted without input from the town. (The Enterprise)


Southbridge is insisting that Casella Waste Systems continue to pick up trash and disposables for free through 2027 even though the company’s landfill is shutting down at the end of this year. (Telegram & Gazette)

In the wake of Friday’s storm, the Washington Post says Boston has largely been ignoring the impact on sea levels from climate change, a view city officials might take issue with. Photos and videos from places such as Winthrop and Scituate were the most dramatic but Quincy was by far the hardest hit community in the storm. (Patriot Ledger) A Plympton man was killed when a tree fell on his car. (Patriot Ledger) Deanna Moran of the Conservation Law Foundation says severe storm effects are the new norm. (CommonWealth)

Joel Wool of Clean Water Action says Massachusetts needs to end energy inequality. (CommonWealth)

The Trump administration plan to allow oil and gas drilling off the New England coast is uniting in opposition fishermen and environmentalists, who are often at odds over policy proposals. (Boston Globe)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee fails to garner enough votes to pass a carbon tax. (Governing)


After 25 years, Dianne Williamson writes her last column for the Telegram & Gazette.


Sir Roger Bannister, the first human to ever run a mile in under four minutes, died at the age of 88. (New York Times)

David Ogden Stiers, best known as the iconic character Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on the TV show M*A*S*H, died from bladder cancer at his Oregon home. He was 75. (Associated Press)