It was coming. And with a year to research, study and digest Kinder Morgan’s proposal for the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, New Hampshire legislators have filed at least a dozen bills for the upcoming legislative session seeking to stymie the project as it tries to barrel ahead.Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.
One representative has even gone as far as to propose a state constitutional amendment that would make it more challenging for state and federal laws to override local ordinances. Such a move would make the project have to meet requirements imposed by each city or town in its path.
State Reps. Max Abramson, Christopher Adams, James Belanger, Eric Eastman, Frank Edelblut, Susan Emerson, Eric Estevez, Jack Flanagan, James W. McConnell, all Republicans, and Majorie J. Shepardson and Benjamin L. Tilton, both Democrats, have signed onto multiple bills inspired by the proposed pipeline. Republican state Sens. Kevin Avard and Andy Sanborn have joined them in supporting much of the legislation.
The 13 elected officials represent at least one town in the pipeline’s proposed path.
“For about a year now, I’ve followed the pipeline reading about the pros and cons, and I’ve decided I think it’s a bad idea,” said Shepardson, who represents Marlborough and Troy. “I think we ought to be putting our money and resources in developing non-fossil fuel infrastructure instead of adding to the infrastructure with more natural gas.”
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, is developing the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas from the shale fields in Pennsylvania to eastern Massachusetts via New York, western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.
The high pressure transmission line is slated to pass through 19 municipalities in New Hampshire, including the Cheshire County communities of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials filed the project’s application in November with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has the power to approve or reject the pipeline. Company officials have asked the commission to approve the project by the fourth quarter of 2016.
The proposed state bills seek to beef up protections for landowners with properties along the pipeline’s planned path, not have the project’s bill fall on electric ratepayers, make sure residents receive some compensation if the project goes through, and requires the N.H. Public Utilities Commission to review any pipeline capacity contract that is for more than one year to determine if it is in the public interest.
McConnell, whose district also covers Richmond and Swanzey, submitted seven of the pipeline-related bills, but doesn’t hold prime sponsorship of all of them in hopes they’ll have a better chance of getting through the committees.
He doesn’t want to risk two hostile chairmen scheduling hearings on the bills at the same time, and then one of the bills getting killed because the prime sponsor wasn’t there to speak to it, he said.
The pipeline is a “terrible idea,” and the only benefit to New Hampshire is having the honor of hosting it, which the state can do without, he said.
“FERC has the final say on the project, but we can require that it meet certain steps in the process,” McConnell of Swanzey, said Saturday.
With that, he said, state law will apply to the project with respect to eminent domain, siting and noise.
McConnell’s bills include prohibiting companies from charging New Hampshire residents for the construction of high pressure gas pipelines, and having the owner of a natural gas transmission pipeline or lateral to have insurance or provide a bond against loss resulting from the failure or malfunction of its pipeline.
He has also filed a bill requiring a royalty be paid to affect landowners on the price of natural gas conveyed by pipeline intended for use in a foreign country; and requiring that pipelines be built below the frost line.
Emerson, who represents Jaffrey and Rindge, is going big in her legislative request to fight the pipeline, proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution that would give New Hampshire residents the right of local, community self-government.
Essentially, cities, towns and counties would be able to enact laws protecting the health, safety and welfare of their residents as long as those laws don’t limit people’s fundamental rights.
State, federal and international laws couldn’t be used to trump those laws, resulting in communities being able to protect themselves from corporate activities they’re against and consider harmful.
The initial proposal for the bill came from Michelle Sanborn of the N.H. Community Rights Network, Emerson said Saturday, and she was more than happy to file the legislation given its connection with the pipeline opposition coming from Rindge and other towns along the pipeline’s planned route.
“I have been very instrumental in fighting the pipeline, and this kind of fits right in with the pipeline message,” Emerson said.
New Hampshire doesn’t need the energy from the pipeline and “they’re shoving it down our throats,” she said.
The bill asks the N.H. House and Senate to approve it so that the amendment can go before state voters as a ballot question during the November 2016 presidential election. A two-thirds vote would be needed for the amendment to pass.
Tilton, who represents Richmond and Swanzey, has submitted two pipeline bills of his own, as well as signing on to others.
One of his bills is about eminent domain, and making the condemning entity liable for reasonable attorney’s fees in certain cases.
The other bill seeks to establish a tax on revenues from natural gas transmission.
The 2016 legislative session begins Wednesday.