Kuster hopes bill gives residents a voice in pipeline

MILFORD – The federal agency in charge of reviewing energy projects came under withering criticism Tuesday from U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster as she announced her sponsorship of a bill to give people more say in the approval process.

Talking to a gathering in Milford’s Emerson Park, Kuster said her bill would provide a strong framework to help towns and their residents deal with energy projects like Kinder Morgan’s abandoned Northeast Direct pipeline.

She was backed up by town officials and local anti-pipeline activists.

"FERC holds the cards, and the deck is stacked against us," said Tad Putney, Brookline town manager and president of the New Hampshire Municipal Pipeline Association.

Kinder Morgan’s project was officially canceled last month, but opponents say there is no guarantee it could not be resurrected someday.

Kuster’s "Energy
Consumer Advocacy Act" would provide funding to establish an Office of Public Participation within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The office would give towns and their residents a stronger voice in the federal review of proposed energy projects.

The bill would require the agency to include community members in the review process and to take public opinion into consideration.

Since the winter of 2014, when the pipeline was first proposed, Putney said, residents and town officials learned that they are on their own when dealing with energy proposals that directly affect them, needing to spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight such projects. "The FERC process is broken," he said.

Marilyn Learner, a Hollis resident, used stronger language.

"People were sucker-punched" by Kinder Morgan’s proposal, she said. They were "harassed, lied to and bullied," confident that there would be no consequences for their behavior, because FERC would be on their side.

"FERC has a history of never denying pipeline projects," Learner said. "People were furious and helpless," especially when they learned that the only comments FERC would consider were those that pertained to engineering.

Beverly Edwards, chairwoman of the town of Temple’s Energy Committee, talked about how the federal Environmental Protection Agency is "disempowered" in the approval process, which meant that the pipeline and its proposed compressor station in New Ipswich would have been a threat to water quality and flow and added more methane gas to the atmosphere.

"Our elementary school would have been smack in the middle of the danger zone" of the compressor station, said Edwards, who said Kuster was the only member of the state’s congressional delegation "who cared enough to come to our town."

Milford Town Administrator Mark Bender introduced Kuster as "an early opponent of NED and a persistent opponent, and "our voice in Washington."

Texas energy giant Kinder Morgan announced in May that its 188-mile gas project was not economical, citing "inadequate capacity commitments from prospective customers."

The 30-inch pipeline would have gone through 17 New Hampshire towns including Amherst, Brookline Londonderry, Merrimack and Milford. Proponents said it would have provided New Hampshire with additional access to clean, abundant and less expensive domestic natural gas.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@nashuatelegraph.com.