Stance on pipeline demonstrates leadership
EDITOR’S NOTE: This was submitted by John D’Angelo, chairman of the Amherst Pipeline Task Force.
We have a federal election in a couple of weeks, and the noise is deafening.
Many people try to simplify their decision-making process by looking at the letter behind the candidates’ names. The letters represent a sort of "brand," and when you have no other information to go by, you can vote for the "D," the "R" or the "L" and hope the candidate is a good representative of the "brand."
If that’s what you are planning to do in November, you might as well stop reading now – nothing I have to say is going to be helpful for you.
Still with me? Good. I’d like to share my experiences with some of our candidates for federal offices. (Not the presidential election!) I’d like to talk about the House and Senate races, and how our elected representatives handled themselves concerning the recently canceled Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline issue.
As a recap, in December 2014, Kinder Morgan announced a revised route for its NED pipeline going from Pennsylvania to Dracut, Mass. The new route passed through western Massachusetts, then turned north and entered New Hampshire, traveled about 71 miles through New Hampshire, then turned south to terminate in Dracut.
What a lovely Christmas present for New Hampshire, and especially for the 17 towns on the newly proposed pipeline route.
Different towns reacted in different ways. In Amherst, the selectmen called for a Pipeline Task Force (PTF) made up of volunteers. Its charter was to discover the facts around this pipeline.
The PTF worked hard and delivered on its charter. The Amherst PTF and the selectmen eventually concluded that the pipeline was not needed and therefore should not be built. The Amherst selectmen sent two letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) documenting the town’s concerns, and copied Amherst’s state and federal representatives, as well as Gov. Maggie Hassan. The actions of Amherst’s state and federal elected leaders were very different.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen did as little as possible, signing on to letters written by other members of Amherst’s congressional delegation, but otherwise she said and did nothing. She was invisible.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte fully engaged with the controversy, writing some of the joint congressional letters to the FERC. She took an active role in demanding that Kinder Morgan and the FERC provide substantive answers to the questions and concerns raised by the people and towns affected by the proposed pipeline.
On Dec. 2, 2015, Ayotte came out against the NED pipeline: "It is disappointing that despite requests from both the (New Hampshire congressional) delegation and local residents, FERC and the DOE Inspector General have thus far failed to provide meaningful answers to these concerns, let alone provide assurance that they will take them into account. … These are important questions and New Hampshire residents deserve substantive answers. Unless and until these questions are sufficiently answered and the concerns of local residents are meaningfully addressed, I oppose this project going forward."
Rep. Annie Kuster went even further, scheduling visits to most, if not all, of the affected towns, meeting with local officials, touring the proposed locations for the pipeline and gathering firsthand information.
Also on Dec. 2, Kuster came out against the NED pipeline: "As the Federal representative for 15 of the 17 New Hampshire towns located along the route of the NED pipeline, I have concluded that this project does not provide sufficient benefits to New Hampshire families and businesses to justify the disruption and long-term negative impacts to our communities. In the coming weeks, I will be filing my opposition to the project with FERC, and I will urge the agency to deny the issuance of a permit for the NED project."
Hassan, the elected leader of the state of New Hampshire … took no position. None. It was as if this pipeline was being proposed in another state. She had nothing to say.
Eventually, she did accumulate the list of concerns that had been sent to her office and forwarded them to the FERC, asking the FERC to address them. However, all of these concerns had already been filed with the FERC by the residents or the towns affected.
Packaging them up and forwarding them gave the illusion of action, for those who wanted to interpret it as taking a stand, but actually accomplished nothing.
Municipal leaders in all of the towns were baffled and frustrated by our governor’s silence. It contrasted poorly with the vocal opposition of then Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the qualified support of a different pipeline by his successor, Charlie Baker.
The Amherst selectmen sent three letters to the governor imploring her to take a position – either for or against. As the elected leader of the state of New Hampshire, her voice was more powerful than any other voice, but she remained silent and uncommitted.
So, to summarize, how did our elected leaders score on the real-world leadership test that was the NED pipeline?
Sen. Shaheen – F
Sen. Ayotte – A
Rep. Kuster – A
Gov. Hassan – F
Many things play into a decision to support or oppose candidates, and leadership may not be the most important issue for you. However, if demonstrated leadership on New Hampshire issues matters to you, you may want to consider the performance of these elected "leaders" on the most significant issue in southern New Hampshire in 2015.
Or, you could just go with the letter behind the candidate’s name and call it good.