Murphy and Blumenthal are hedging on Algonquin pipeline issue

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Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal need to follow the example set by their peers in New York and Massachusetts and responsibly question the further building and enhancement of the interstate methane (natural gas) pipelines running through Connecticut.

Both senators have hedged on this critical energy and environmental issue while New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in particular, have responded to concerned constituents and, upon investigation, determined that  the existing environmental and safety reviews of the Algonquin pipeline expansion (which extends through Connectict from Danbury to Rhode Island) are  inadequate, and have called on the relevant federal agency, FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to halt construction until it researches the project more responsibly.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, correspondingly, has asked FERC to investigate conflict of interest issues in the pipeline research that has occurred.  FERC, apparently, has allowed contractors, with preexisting business ties to the pipeline builders, to do environmental impact studies that must precede construction.

In contrast, both Connecticut senators have essentially ducked the issue, outside of the occasional cursory nods to the need for standard environmental oversight and vigilance from FERC. These minimal gestures do not even make up for their co- signing of a letter from Sen. Angus King of Maine to FERC, actually requesting an expediting of the already pared down FERC environmental review for the AIM Algonquin pipeline a few years back.

Almost all the proposed expansion projects on the Algonquin, Tennessee, and Iroquois interstate lines running through Connecticut are aimed at facilitating the transport of methane from the fracking fields west of us – especially those in Pennsylvania. The drillers there need the New England energy market to survive (at least until they have permission to export the stuff).

On the ground, on location, fracking is an acknowledged undemocratic disaster, presenting an existing and ongoing threat to water supplies because of its need to inject toxic chemicals (not all yet disclosed to the public) deep into the ground to force up the methane gas. The injected chemicals, and their byproducts created underground, that are not collected and dumped elsewhere (another issue) remain in the ground and contaminate wells and aquifers with the expected unpleasant results.

By not taking any stance, OUR Connecticut senators not only tacitly support this destructive practice in our own country, but also jeopardize the U.S. international commitments to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) made at the Paris climate conference last year. Studies reveal that in addition to the reduced but still very significant (around 2/3 of oil) carbon dioxide exhaust emissions from burning methane in furnaces and power plants, there are unknown and possibly quite large amounts of what are called “fugitive emissions” from methane leaks in the production and transport of the gas.

In the near term, escaped methane is actually 86 times more damaging than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Any reduction in CO2 from the cleaner burning methane is most probably cancelled out from this escaping methane in the production cycle and may in fact be exceeded. Recent satellite studies indicate massive methane leakage in the U.S. associated with fracking.

As far as Connecticut goes, the lack of guidance from our senators has exacerbated the moral hazard of the availability of cheap fracked gas for the state government.  While state policy itself has heedlessly distorted  the state’s energy market  through its subsidizing the state methane infrastructure build-out in the form of relaxed utility regulations, oil/gas conversion financing, and mandated utility rate hikes,  the more balanced and far-sighted energy discussion we need (still possible in the imminent review of Connecticut’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy by DEEP) has been most assuredly deterred by the federal green lighting of the interstate lines and the cheap fracked gas they promise. The conscious partition of responsibility, between the federal and state energy decision makers, is allowing outside business interests, in the form profit-oriented regional utilities and pipeline construction companies, to determine Connecticut’s energy future to their advantage.

Murphy and Blumenthal can do the right thing, now, by doing their basic job of guiding D.C. in its dealings with our state. This can be achieved with the pipelines by, firstly, not irresponsibly signing onto any more ‘facilitating’ letters prompted by energy industry lobbyists, and then by treating the interstate pipeline issue, as a whole, in a more attentive, engaged manner, in order to create, for Hartford, the political and economic space needed to correctly chart our energy path at this critical juncture.

Only by doing this can they match the more responsible job done so far by their more engaged senatorial peers in adjacent states.

James Root lives in Danbury.

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