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A Show of Solidarity

Northampton City Council takes up controversial pipeline project

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tennessee Gas’ proposed natural gas pipeline, which would run from upstate New York to Dracut, Mass., would not pass through Northampton. But Ward 3 City Councilor Ryan O’Donnell makes the case that the project—and, specifically, its potential threats—are significant enough that the city ought to take a clear stand against it.

On Thursday, the Northampton City Council will take up a resolution, proposed by O’Donnell and Council President Bill Dwight, asserting that the body “stands in opposition to the Northeast Expansion of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline and all similar projects that may be later proposed” and “stands in solidarity with nearby communities working to disallow the Pipeline within their borders.” The resolution also calls for more government support for renewable-energy efforts and other strategies to counter climate change as well as legislation that would ban or “impose a long-term moratorium” on hydraulic fracturing.

The 250-mile underground pipeline would carry gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial method in which water and chemicals are injected into underground rock to release natural gas. Opponents, here and around the country, are concerned about potential environmental damage caused by the process and contend that resources should instead be concentrated on renewable energy and conservation. The Northampton resolution voices concerns about fracking including “its potential for ground water contamination, impact on air quality, and the harmful health effects of its chemical byproducts, among others” and notes that the pipeline would pass through “environmentally sensitive areas in our region such as forests and wetlands, as well as beneath the Connecticut River.”

Because no formal plans for the project have been filed with the state, the route of the proposed pipeline is still speculative. The Greenfield Recorder, however, has reported that town officials in Plainfield, Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange have been notified of the company’s interest in surveying land in their communities. Town Meetings in Cummington, Pelham, Plainfield, Worthington, Deerfield, Leverett, Shelburne and Warwick have already passed resolutions opposed to the project.

While Northampton is not on the proposed route, O’Donnell said last week, the project is nonetheless “a regional issue that matters for Northampton. And of course it’s a state issue and federal issue. It’s a question of what we are we going to do about our energy policy in our country.”

While some view resolutions with skepticism because they are symbolic in nature and lack the force of law, O’Donnell said his and Dwight’s proposal offers the city an important opportunity to show its solidarity with those communities that would be directly affected, and to take a moral position on the matter. “This is an example where to get something done, you have to reach out and collaborate with other communities,” he said. “We all love the Pioneer Valley. We all have an interest in preserving it. And we all need to come together to preserve it. … I feel a value of progressivism is taking action. It’s not just where you stand on the issues; it’s moving together to get something done.”

And, O’Donnell added, “I think the corporation that wants to build this pipeline would be perfectly happy if all the cities and towns keep to themselves.”•

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