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97 Representatives Deliver Letter to Speaker DeLeo Opposing Pipeline Tax

On Wednesday, 97 representatives will deliver a letter to Speaker DeLeo opposing policies that would force electricity customers to subsidize new gas pipelines through a charge added to monthly bills. The letter, which was circulated by House Ways and Means Vice Chair Stephen Kulik and House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, has garnered broad bipartisan support.

Over the next few months, legislators are expected to debate an omnibus energy bill that could include provisions to finance hydropower imports, offshore wind, energy efficiency or new gas pipelines. Although it is is unprecedented and carries significant risks for consumers, utility companies as well as some administration officials have advocated for public financing for pipeline projects to transport gas from the Marcellus Shale through New England.

The Baker administration is currently advancing a controversial scheme that would require electric ratepayers to fund new gas pipelines through a charge added to electricity bills each month--variants of proposals conceived of during the Patrick administration but abandoned following public scrutiny and significant opposition. In October 2015, Baker’s Department of Public Utilities gave a tentative green light to the scheme, also known as the “pipeline tax.” The DPU is currently considering whether or not to allow National Grid and Eversource to charge customers for two specific pipeline projects, Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct and Spectra’s Access Northeast.

In the letter, legislators voice their opposition to efforts to force ratepayers to subsidize new gas pipelines. "We ask you to ensure energy legislation does not commit ratepayers to bearing the cost and risk associated with financing new gas infrastructure," the letter reads. "Doing so will create liabilities for the many legislators whose districts are impacted by one or more proposed fossil fuel projects, increase our state's over-reliance on gas, and saddle ratepayers with significant expenses for years to come."

Mass Power Forward, a statewide coalition of more than 150 environmental, climate and social justice groups, has been an outspoken critic of the pipeline tax.

“It’s crazy that ordinary Massachusetts families are being asked to foot the bill for massive and polluting new pipelines that we don’t need and don’t want. We’re grateful to the legislators who are speaking out,”  said Emily Kirkland, Director of Organizing for 350 Massachusetts.

“We know from Attorney General Maura Healey’s study that new fracked gas pipelines are not needed to meet our current and future energy needs,” said Emily Norton, Massachusetts Director of the Sierra Club. “We applaud the legislators who have signed onto this letter. They are standing up for ratepayers, for the climate, and for their constituents by saying no to new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

“Our last governor walked away from a proposal like this when it became clear that subsidizing gas pipelines is not only hazardous for the environment but also incredibly risky for consumers,” said Joel Wool, Energy Advocate with Clean Water Action. “We’re glad to see Republicans and Democrats speaking up together against these destructive policies and hope our state’s leaders will choose Massachusetts residents over investor-owned energy companies.”

“Cities and towns across the Commonwealth have been opposing these pipelines,” said Carol Oldham of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, or MCAN. “Thousands of people have come to events and hearings and sent emails and made calls, and the Governor and the Speaker should hear their concerns. Thank you to the legislators who have listened to their constituents and signed this letter.”

“We’ve had a great response from legislators who were asked to sign by volunteers from our member congregations,” said Amy Benjamin, co-chair of the Mass Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action.” “We’re bringing a faith-based message to these conversations and letting our legislators know that our opposition to subsidies for fossil-fuel infrastructure is rooted in the shared moral values of our diverse faith traditions."

“The signers of this letter recognize that asking low-income elders to pay additional utility fees for pipeline infrastructure that the Attorney General's office has shown we don't need would impose hardship with no benefit. We applaud the signers and hope House leadership takes note,” said Grady McGonagill of Elders Climate Action.

“Where the people lead, leaders follow,” said Claire Miller of Toxics Action Center, “After nearly two years of grassroots opposition we are thrilled to see legislators take a stand against the gas pipeline tax that would make all of us foot the bill.”