Members of CPNY and affiliates, plus many other New York groups, joined scores of people from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in Albany on October 18. Representing nearly three dozen groups fighting pipeline construction and expansion in the Northeast, the activists held a daylong coalition-building strategic session.
In almost every state nationwide, residents are learning there’s a new fossil fuel pipeline or pipeline expansion planned near them — or already permitted. In the Northeast at least 20 pipelines — so far — traversing thousands of miles are underway or in the permitting stages, and public opposition is mounting.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversees pipelines permitting. Most new pipelines are intended to transport tar sands oil or fracked gas destined for export to foreign markets, where they fetch much higher prices than in the USA. Pipelines, depending on size, geography and other factors, require a compressor station every 7-100 miles.
Towns along routes are placed in extreme danger, from explosions and fires and also from leakage of toxic fumes that have devastating effects on human and animal health, and contribute mightily to climate disruption.
Adding to the long list of issues in play, most Northeastern states manage public pension funds that are heavily invested in fossil fuels. A populist movement against such misuse of public funds is growing rapidly: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York have fossil-fuel divestment campaigns and have introduced legislation.
“People across the region are coming to realize that even if their state has little or no potential for actual drilling, they are still at risk from the effects of fracking,” said Clare Donohue of Sane Energy Project, a New York City-based group that organized the gathering. “Communities throughout New York and New England are already impacted by the expansion of pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities and waste dumping. We arranged this meeting to bring people together to share resources and strategies.”
NoFrackedGasInMass.org founder Rosemary Wessel was among the attendees from Massachusetts, which has rapidly mobilized against several pipeline threats; 34 communities along planned routes have passed opposition resolutions. Wessel pointed out that although each group at the meeting has to deal with different state and local laws, there is much they share in common, especially FERC.
“FERC would more accurately be called the Federal Energy Rubberstamp Corporation,” said CPNY’s Maura Stephens. “Its primary mission is to help industry begin projects, no matter how well documented the adverse effects on human health, no matter how apparent the scary contributions to hastening climate disruption, and no matter how vehement the local resistance.”
Some at the meeting shared stories of their painful personal experience in communities under siege. Attendees from Minisink, in Orange County, NY, with many of their fellow residents, mounted strong opposition to a compressor station run by Millennium Pipeline, Inc. They filed thousands of pages of comments, provided hundreds of supporting documents, traveled 20 times to Washington, DC for FERC meetings, filed a lawsuit, and even offered an alternative location for the project farther away from their homes.
Yet FERC allowed the 12,600-horsepower compressor station to go forward despite there being 200 homes within a half-mile radius. Since it opened in June 2013, many residents have been suffering physical and stress-related illnesses and watching their property values plummet. Now they’re facing another assault with a gas-fired power plant planned just a few miles away.
“It’s an odd feeling no longer being safe in your own home because the government that is allegedly protecting us allows this infrastructure to be built,” said Douglas Burd of Minisink.
“Stories like that,” said Stephens, “make it clear that no community can possibly stop assaults like this — unless we all band together. That’s what we’re doing. With others in the Northeast and then joining with similar coalitions across the continent, we will arrest these criminal, short-sighted industrial invaders of our health, homes and future.”