Markey, Trahan file pipeline safety bill

The announcement by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts that it plans to replace hundreds of appliances in homes impacted by the September natural gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley coincides with the unveiling of a bill to make sure such a horror never happens again.

Executives of the company announced Thursday that they plan to replace all heating appliances in 900 homes by late August. The company has paid out $99.5 million to settle more than 24,000 claims filed by customers seeking reimbursements for damaged or replaced items. But the settlements have earned barely more than a side-eye glance from Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, who has told media that the company has withheld payments for restorative work.

Rivera was one of a group of politicos backing Sen. Ed Markey and Congresswoman Lori Trahan in unveiling the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, which calls for stricter regulations and more severe penalties on natural gas companies that mess up.

“There will be no more slaps on the wrist,” Markey said at a press conference. The bill requires professional engineers to approve all significant changes to pipelines, assure on-site pressure monitoring is done by qualified employees, and mandates accurate record-keeping and mapping of pipeline systems. The damages a utility could be held responsible for would increase 100-fold from $2 million to $200 million.

The bill is named for the 18-year-old man who was killed when a chimney shaken by a blast fell onto the SUV where he was sitting in a Lawrence driveway. Rivera said “bringing their feet to the fire has been very important to us,” and added that Leonel Rondon will be remembered with the passing of the bill. “Fifty years from now, when they talk about pipeline safety, they’re going to remember his name.”

Meanwhile, Markey pointed out that pipeline infrastructure is “a ticking time bomb,” and stressed the importance of closing regulatory loopholes.

Just this week, the Connecticut Post reported a new survey showed that methane is seeping into the air from low pressure gas lines across the state, which could cause a “disaster similar to the explosions last year that rocked three Massachusetts towns.”

The national Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would be tasked with establishing the regulations of the Rondon bill. The Senate Commerce Committee will meet to discuss the measure next Wednesday.

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

Momentum seems to be building for legislation giving the state more regulatory control over prescription drug pricing, but at a hearing on Beacon Hill the CEO of MassBIO made his policy point about the high cost and long time it takes to develop a new drug by drawing on his personal situation. (CommonWealth)

A fresh start by proponents of an income surtax on high earners got a warm reception at a State House hearing, suggesting the proposal will sail easily through the Legislature before ultimately appearing before voters as a proposed constitutional amendment. (Boston Globe)

A year after Yarmouth police Sgt. Sean Gannon was fatally shot while trying to serve an arrest warrant on a career criminal, multiple bills have been introduced to change the rules around bail and pretrial detention, but none have been scheduled for an initial hearing, much less a vote. (Cape Cod Times)

Gov. Charlie Baker’s public safety secretary, Thomas Turco, and Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins met yesterday, a week after a charged dust-up between them began, and spokesmen for both sides were talking nice about how it all went, but without a lot of specifics. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Globe editorial decries the hazy situation surrounding pot shop rules in Boston following a head-scratching move by a city board on proposals for stores in East Boston.

Could mixed-use projects that include housing and space for nonprofit groups be the Boston branch libraries of the future? (Dorchester Reporter)

Lynn had two bids for the former Thurgood Marshall Middle School, but neither one moved as fast as the city wanted so they were rejected and the building will be torn down. (Daily Item)

ELECTIONS

Former Democratic National Committee chairman — and one-time state treasurer — Steve Grossman is endorsing Pete Buttigieg, who is expected to formally announce he’s running for president on Sunday. (Boston Globe)

Andrew Yang, a Democratic candidate for president, rallied supporters on Boston Common on Wednesday, making his pitch to mitigate the automation of jobs by paying every American citizen a $1,000 monthly stipend. (WGBH)

The Boston City Council is undergoing a sea change in membership, writes David Bernstein, and the outcome of November’s elections will have lasting impact on Boston politics. (WGBH)

 BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Stop & Shop workers across New England went on strike yesterday after contract talks with the company broke down over pension and health care benefits. (Boston Globe)

Thomas O’Brien, of HYM Investment Group, plans to put 10,000 units of housing in the “gem” of a neighborhood that will be built at Suffolk Downs, and Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards wants 25 percent of the housing to be affordable. (WGBH)

A former Webster Bank in Brockton is being proposed for the site of a retail pot shop, run by the company Nature’s Embrace. Mayor Bill Carpenter has entered into a total of eight host community agreements for retail recreational marijuana licenses in the city. (Brockton Enterprise)

Haverwell Market CEO Chris Edwards clashed with Haverhill residents who don’t like his plans to build a marijuana store in their neighborhood. (Eagle-Tribune)

A DigBoston feature breaks down a living wage ordinance in Boston, and its impact on low-wage recycling workers.

EDUCATION

The presidents of Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges suspended campus Police Chief Daniel Hect, saying he failed to develop the level of trust needed to pursue community policing. Officials denied his apparent embrace of President Trump on Twitter had anything to do with the decision. (MassLive) Globe columnist Kevin Cullen says the denials are laughable. (Boston Globe) Hect took the job in February. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The Diman school committee in Fall River is offering Superintendent-Director Thomas Aubin a “separation agreement” and has appointed Principal Elvio Ferreira as interim superintendent. Citing concerns with Aubin’s temperament and ability to work with the school committee, the committee asked Aubin to voluntarily leave the district in early December. Aubin declined. (Herald News)

Plans continue to move forward for the first privately run Boston dorm for college students. (Boston Globe)

Supporters of John DePolo, the Haverhill Alternative School principal who was placed on leave following a restraint incident, thronged the school committee Thursday, and Mayor James Fiorentini, who is chairman of the committee, said he supports DePolo. (Eagle-Tribune)

Rural school buses traverse rutted and muddy dirt roads, and the costs pile up so that transportation for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District costs $1,000 per student, about double the state average. (WBUR)

Swampscott High School will re-inspect its sailboats after two of them capsized Wednesday because of mechanical issues. (Salem News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state Department of Public Health is moving to shut down Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Williamstown because of its history of poor care. (Berkshire Eagle)

ARTS/CULTURE

Academic A. David Lewis has been on the search for America’s first Muslim superhero, and claims that Kismet, created in the 1940s, has that title, and was authored by a woman in Massachusetts. (DigBoston)

TRANSPORTATION

Sen. Eric Lesser joins a group of people from western Massachusetts who commute together to Boston each day. He was trying to highlight the challenges people face crossing the state from west to east, but it wasn’t clear the rail connection he favors would improve the commute very much. (MassLive)

MBTA union official Timothy Lasker says the discussion about a new station cleaning contract approach is deja vu all over again. (CommonWealth)

 ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Eversource hasn’t given up on its proposed Northern Pass project running through New Hampshire, and has a hearing date next month before the New Hampshire Supreme Court to make its case. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe, facing heavy criticism from the right about an op-ed column whose author, Luke O’Neil, said he regretted years earlier as a restaurant worker in Cambridge “not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon,” at first made edits to to the piece posted Wednesday and then pulled it altogether, drawing criticism from the left and free-speech advocates (including the author). (Washington Post)

The Boston Herald puts up a paywall on its website and trims its staff some more. (CommonWealth)

New England Public Radio and public television station WGBY are merging to form New England Public Media. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Media Nation writer Dan Kennedy talks about what the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London could mean for freedom of the press here at home.

The Seattle Times launches a fundraising drive in coordination with the Seattle Foundation to raise money for investigative reporting.