Bill would give public voice in FERC review

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

Talking to a gather­ing in Milford’s Emerson Park on May 31, Kuster said her bill would pro­vide a strong framework to help towns and their residents deal with en­ergy projects such as Kinder Morgan’s aban­doned Northeast Direct pipeline with the Fed­eral Energy Regulatory Committee.

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, the 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 might not be resurrect­ed someday.

Kuster’s Energy Con­sumer Advocacy Act would provide funding to establish an Office of Public Participation within the FERC. 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 winter 2014, when the pipeline was 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" by pipeline advocates, 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 wasn’t economical, cit­ing "inadequate capacity commitments from pro­spective customers."

The 30-inch diameter 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 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.