Environmental Groups Protest New England Governors' Plan to Invest Billions in Natural Gas

Posted April 29, 2015

MP3 Interview with Jen Siskind, staffer with the Connecticut chapter of Food & Water Watch, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


Five New England governors met behind closed doors in Hartford, Connecticut on April 23 to discuss regional cooperation on energy, specifically when it comes to increasing the availability of fracked natural gas. The governors say investments in the billions of dollars are needed in natural gas pipelines and transmission wires, in order to reduce New England's electricity prices, which, outside of Hawaii, are the highest in the U.S.

Top energy officials from all six New England states shared their views on energy issues before the governors' meeting, at a forum open to the public but with no audience participation. They promoted an energy policy that primarily focused on fracked gas along with with a minor role for renewables, energy efficiency, and nuclear power.

After the presentations, dozens of opponents of fracking, representing 43 organizations in all six New England states, protested state government’s focus and investment in natural gas. They advocate money instead be spent on clean, renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who covered the governor’s meeting and protest, spoke with Jen Siskind, a staffer with the Connecticut chapter of the group Food & Water Watch. Here, she warns that fracked gas infrastructure will keep the region tied to fossil fuels for decades to come, while exacerbating climate change.

JEN SISKIND: We are currently being assaulted with fracked gas pipelines, toxic compressor stations, and a build out of infrastructure that is going to keep us tied to fossil fuels for decades to come. And what we need to do instead is move to renewable energy and we need strong leadership from Gov. Malloy and from the rest of the New England governors to get there. We have the technology right now to be able to do this: we can use shared solar; we can use photo-voltaic arrays; we can use on-shore and off-shore wind; we can use local microgrids that can distribute energy in towns that can finance and fund and support these systems. And we need to move to these brand new systems rather than stay tied to the status quo that we've used for decades that we know is affecting climate change.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Okay. So, there was a united front as far as I could tell from all the states on the importance of "all of the above" which seems to primarily include natural gas – fracked gas. And everybody says yes, we want more renewables, we're moving to renewables, but we can't get there fast enough and if we don't go to gas, people won't have power. I mean, that's what they say.

JEN SISKIND: I think that's a very carefully crafted public relations statement. I think it feeds right in to the gas companies that are looking to make a profit. We can move to renewable; we can use efficiency as well so that we do not need to build out this massive infrastructure. And there's a reason the governors are holding a closed-door planning session. There's no transparency with this. They're talking about we need all this gas to reduce our energy costs, but they are planning to push the cost of these multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects on the public – on us. They're planning to put these multi-billion dollar costs on our utility bills. So we the public will be paying for private infrastructure that's owned by private companies that are moving all this gas into New England.

So, Connecticut needs strong leadership; New England needs strong leadership. It's already happening in other places and New England governors need to step up as well. Fracked gas is not clean energy and it's not climate-friendly. My mother has gas wells all around her property in Pennsylvania, so I know firsthand how polluting this source is. I know how toxic it is to the air they breathe, I know how toxic it is to groundwater and surface water sources. And the more gas that we bring into New England means the more radioactive, toxic fracking waste we're going to produce and every well is producing tens of thousands of gallons of this toxic waste.

Last year, Gov. Malloy was not willing to support a ban on bringing waste into Connecticut, so instead we have a short-term moratorium, and now (DEEP) Commissioner Klee is talking about regulating fracking waste in Connecticut.And we've already had great leadership shown on a local level. The town of Washington, Connecticut has banned fracking waste and are trying to protect themselves from these future hazardous regulations that are going to be considered for Connecticut.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And when you said the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is considering regulating fracking waste, that's a bad thing from your perspective? That means they would allow it, but regulate it somehow, as opposed to ban it...

JEN SISKIND: Yes, and there is no way to safely regulate this waste. Commissioner Klee can write all the rules in the world that he wants; however, he can't control whether spills or accidents will occur with tanker trucks bringing this waste into our state, across our highways, across several counties of Connecticut to have it disposed. He cannot control whether manifests are accurately reported, and he most likely won't be able to test every single sample that comes into Connectiut to make sure its radioactive levels are low enough to not be hazardous.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The governors and their representatives at this very un-transparent gathering this morning, were all on the same page about the need to expand gas coming into the whole region. They're saying it's a bottleneck and that's why prices are so high and why there's a possibility of not having enough, and rolling blackouts and ... Are opponents of increasing fracked gas use in Connecticut talking about working together also?

JEN SISKIND: We currently have an alliance between activists in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachussetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, all six New England states. People are working together trying to push our leadership in the correct direction, because right now they're taking a wrong-turn path.

For more information on the Connecticut chapter of Food and Water Watch, visit foodandwaterwatch.org.

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