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Stories from the Frontlines
Stories from the Frontlines

Season 1, Episode 7 · 6 months ago

The Last Gasp

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This week’s episode features Michele Marantz from the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group. She and many others have spent the last several years fighting to stop a new gas metering station in Longmeadow, MA and a new gas pipeline from Longmeadow to Springfield. Tune in to hear Michele talk about working in coalition with other communities, building political power, and understanding the complexities of our gas permitting system.

You can support the campaign by checking out the website (https://www.stopthetoxicpipeline.org/), and finding the involved groups on Facebook (Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group; or Springfield Climate Justice Coalition) or Twitter (@LongmeadowG). You can sign the petition here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/ban-construction-of-gas-meter-station-and-high-pressure-pipeline-in-longmeadow-and-springfield

Learn more about Community Action Works on our website: https://communityactionworks.org/.

We’re also on Facebook (Community Action Works), Twitter (@ComActionWorks), and Instagram (@ComActionWorks).

Hello and welcome back to stories from the front lines brought to you by community action works. At Community Action Works, we believe that environmental threats are big, but the power of well organized community groups is bigger. That's why we work side by side with everyday people to confront those who are polluting and harming the health of our communities. I'm one of your hosts, near a Pajahni, the western Massachusetts community organizer with Community Action Works, and I'm Shaney Casper, the Vermont new after State Director for Community Action Works. Each episode of this podcast will bring on a new community member or activists to share their story of taking on environmental friends from the front line. This season's theme is stories about our energy system and our regional grid operator in the northeas. Today we're joined by Michell Marians of the LONGMEATAL pipeline awareness group. She in her neighbors are working to stop the proposed gas pipeline and meter station and Longmeadow Massachusetts. Welcome to shell, thank you for having me. Thanks for being here, Michell. We would love the listeners to hear more about you and your group. Can you introduce yourself and the long meadow pipeline awareness group. Sure, I am chair of the Long Metal Pipeline Awareness Group and and how I evolved to that station is a bit of a story. I did an early retirement from teaching and thought that I probably had ten good years of activism and I should devote that those ten years to climate work, because that seemed to be the can that a lot of portions of our society like to kick down the road and ignore. But having read a lot about the topic, I realized how imperative it was for us to address climate change and to try to do something about this. I started out by engaging with a local environmental group called long meadow environmental transition, and I worked with that small group to sponsor several community conferences that dealt with climate change and also how to deal with it through carbon pricing, and I did quite a bit of lobbying of our local and our state and federal legislators regarding the need for carbon pricing. But that my focus changed when a fellow transition long meadow transition member and I attended a spring stale climate justice coalition meeting about three and a half years ago and the topic was Columbia Gas and its plans to expand gas infrastructure among seven communities in western Massachusetts. So I set myself down and I geared up for the powerpoint presentation and nearly fell off the chair when I saw that listed among the seven communities was long meadow. And what was additionally shocking was the fact that the text that was posted off a Columbia gas website identified the area of expansion as a, quote, non residential area, unquote. I having lived in Long Meadow for over twenty two years, I knew enough to know that. You know, a long meadow is a really it's a small community, it's and it's ninety six percent developed. There isn't a lot of room to put a gas processing plant, which is what a meter station is, and a high powered pipeline. So that was very shocking. Can you tell us more about natural gas pipelines and metering stations and about why this would be such a bad idea for long meadow? Well, to be frank, I didn't know that much about all of I knew I know what a gas pipeline was, obviously,...

...but the past three and a half years have been an ongoing journey and learning about what these facilities are and what they mean. I'm like everybody else. When I walk along streets that have gas pipelines running beneath them, I don't see the methane that is being released at the joints. If I drive past a local meter station in east long meadow, I don't see the methane gas and other fracking chemicals that are being released through the smokestacks. Occasionally I will smell what's being blown off by the meter station, but it's really been a journey in learning what what is a a meter station? What does point of delivery mean? Oh, that's just a euphemism for a meter in station, which is part of you know what the gas company uses to that's their terminology to describe, as I said, a miniature gas processing plant. And then how meter stations differ from gas compression compressor stations, which are much bigger facilities. I think you know. All I can say is that the fact that we cannot with the naked eye, see the mething really disposes the public to thinking that this is a quote unquote, clean energy source. And then you have all of the gas company propaganda that supports that delusion. Another thing that I learned in the over the past three years. Is How natural gas is in is snomer that much of our gas comes from the Marcelas Shale, which are frapping fields and Philadelphia, and you know, I've seen a couple of documentaries that show how incredibly destructive that processes and all also have become aware of the various chemicals that are used in order to extract that. Guess. Yeah, definitely an intentional kind of greenwashing. Name Natural Gas, which is the appointed out comes from from Pennsylvania the most part, here in the northeast. And Michelleo, take us back to that moment. You saw on the slide that long meadow was one of these communities and, as you said, nearly fell off your chair. What what happened next? How did you build your group and start to get your campaign going? Well, this is almost like, you know, Elizabeth Coogler Ross's stages of grief. First I was shocked, then I was confused, as I said, and then I became concerned and very motivated about trying to do more. And so the next step was to make contact with a few of the people that long meadow residents I've met through the carbon pricing activism that that I participated in and drew them together for just tell them what was going to happen. And you know, in retrospect this is a little aside. As as traumatic as upsetting is it was to learn about this, it was really a lucky moment for long meadow and for Springfield, because most pipeline projects, by the time the public becomes aware of them, it is too late to do anything about it, and so we were very fortunate to be at that meeting that night, very fortunate to have Kathy Christofferson from the pipeline awareness network of New England making this presentation, very fortunate to have the Springfield climate justice coalition people there as well. So you know, I to get back to my small core. So I talked about this, told them what I knew. We looked at the Columbia gas website and saw the cartoon maps that they had charting out their intentions and people got motivated to help. A couple of the people that were in this original group were also science teachers, so we didn't have to explain anything to them about what the implications of this project was and what we decided during that first summer...

...was that we would try to talk the long Meadow Country Club out of selling the tow plus Acre Lot to Tennessee gas. Tennessee gas was going to intended to purchase this to plus Acre and that was going to be the site of the metering station. So we thought if we could stop the metering station, we don't have to worry about the pipeline because the pipeline would be connected to it. So we prepared a three page proposal which talked about all of the reasons that it would be foolish for the long Meadow Country Club to, I don't want to say sell their soul when they sold the property, but so let's say, sell their sell the property to Tennessee gas. We worked on that. We want it to be as accurate. Wanted it to be as accurate and scientific as possible and we also interviewed our local and our state official to find out what did they know about this. So can, yeah, can you share where about how you power map these different decisionmakers and the local elected officials and getting champions and, yeah, who to focus your attention on and what tactics to use for those different decisionmakers? Well, I mean it was mostly the I have to say it was the byproduct of brainstorming. It was, you know, the six of us, eight of us. Where should we begin? Here? And again, and I would stress us to anybody who's beginning a resistance process, the important thing is to get the facts and that sounds like a simple thing to do, but it's actually very difficult to take a lot of work. Yeah, that's a lot of time. Because the gas company. What we discovered during that form of period is that Gass Company really doesn't want anyone to know about what they're doing. That was shocking and I continue it could be shocked by their tactics. But you know, that was that was the second shock, I think. I mean when you talk to the town engineer and he says, I don't know, they never tell me anything, and when you talk to our state rep and our state senator and they say, well, we've heard a little bit about this, but we're really not sure where it's supposed to be, when it's supposed to happen. And the Long Metal Select Board at that point was not forthcoming at all. They were very, very quiet about it. They didn't appear to know much. They weren't forthcoming with information and, as we later learn, the town manager actually was the driving force behind it. He thought it was a really great idea to do this. HMM, yeah, you that definitely is really frustrating and you mentioned you know, obviously people are coming at this from very different perspectives. The town manager has one lens through rich he's looking at it, and a select board another. One of the key messages that you have found really resonate with the community when you talk about this issue. You know what that's residents fired up about it. And then what gets such a makers like select board members or other elected officials to pay attention? Well, you know, I would like to say, I would like to believe that the whole notion of renewable energy and saving the planet and, you know, the whole drive to stop burning things as a form of energy was a driving force. But I have to say that because humanity has I don't know, they're just seems. It seems to me that there's this pervasive reluctance to embrace the reality of climate change and what it really means. And of course we have the right wing propaganda machine that is saying there's no such thing as climate change. So obviously, with some people we did talk about climate change, but the primary primary motivators for many people were the issue of health. How is this going to affect the health of the people who lived around this new facility and along the pipeline route? Safety was a huge issue, and I'm sorry to say this, but right around the time that we were...

...trying to educate the community about the implications of this project, there was there were a there was a rash of accidents that occurred, including the Mayor Mc Valley debaccle, which was just horrendous. But you know, if people wanted to deny safety factors, that put that issue to rest for them. I mean they a lot of people really woke up with that. And also in our own town there were two major gas leaks that occurred in the old old part of town and people were told to leave their homes. The fire trucks were there and this was a this was a very visible event because it occurred as people were coming home during rush hour traffic. So you just spects that happened. To share a little what happened in Marriam after folks. They may not have heard about that. Okay, so Mary Mc Valley was a Columbia gas accident that was the result of an over pressurized pipeline exploding. And the reason that this took place is because the operator, and again this is another shock, this this company, the operator who was overseeing these pipelines and and regulating the flow, was in Ohio, okay. So the person who was looking at at the dashboard or whatever, all the dials, thought that the call was for more gas to be injected into a certain area of pipeline, and that's because the workers were installing a pipeline with a defective valve and because of that, the he you know, issue the command or whatever to inject a lot of gas and literally the pipeline blew up. At this accident affected three or four towns, mostly north and over, mostly boy on blocking on whether it was Lowell or Lawrence. Lawrence, it was Lawrence, okay, and it was an l word. So the the Lawrence neighborhood, was tremendously affected by this and in fact, you know, if your house wasn't totally destroyed, you know it was really damaged and people spent months in trailers as a result. It was hard for the people in Lawrence, in this area, to escape the consequences of this and that I just want to say that event really triggered I think the stay thinking about Columbia gas needs to leave, because it was the biggest evidence of their poor stewardish stewardship of pipelines. Yeah, it sounds like because of this horrible traumatic event that happened in the Maryor Mc Valley with the pipeline explosion, it really had you guys asking a lot of questions and engaging with some of these key decisionmakers in in new ways, and that maybe some of the questions that you asked to these experts, these government officials who, in name, should be protecting public health and the environment, weren't or couldn't, and that instead, the experts who are most helpful for your group were not folks with letters after their names or with job titles, but were other folks who had just gone through similar fights like you had before, and we're able to answer some of those questions or guide you in the right direction. Can you share a little bit more about the the experts that you called on, these kind of lay people experts to support you in your campaign? Yes, I did mention the pipeline awareness network of New England and I will say that two of the members of that group Kathy Christopherson and...

Katie Eisman have been advisors all along. They are very, very careful not to tell us what to do. In other words, they don't tell us how to make things happen. We just have turned to them, especially Cathy, to make sure that we're saying the right thing, that we are not calling a compressor station a meter station, that we're reading a map correctly, because you know the this is no surprise to anybody who has tried to speak out publicly with the power structure, if you want to call that. But we knew out there that the opposition was ready to dismiss us at the drop of a hat, and so the last thing we wanted to do is undermine our effort by not knowing what we were talking about, and sometimes that is sometimes it's hard to get those answers. We were very fortunate to have Cathie help us with the actual infrastructure aspects, and Katie was brought in on some of the legal issues, like what legal footing do we have to oppose this? And that's a topic all in itself, because it's pretty depressing how limited a local residence, the power of residents to resist these sorts of projects is really minimized because of various federal and state laws that have been in place for decades and it's tough. But sometimes you will get a pipeline stopped on a mere technicality, you know, like the fact that there's some sort of environmental law from the late S and s s that can be implemented. But in our case we are really fighting on a federal the federal level with Tennessey gas because it's interstate, and then on a state level with Columba, sorry, now ever source, ever source gas, because it is an intrust state project. So we have to try to think on both of those levels and it's been very challenging. Definitely. I can imagine that's a lot of pieces to juggle. And to follow up on what you just mentioned with it's now ever soorts because every source bought Columbia gas. After the series of accidents and explosions, Columbia gas was sold and now ever source is picking up this projects where they left us. But I want to circle back. You mentioned, you know, the importance of maintaining and building your credibility through having the facts right. And I think, of course, another big reason that the big way communities can build their creditate credibilities through building more power, through people and having more and more folks involved. And one way pipelines differ from some other projects that we are highlighting this season is that they crossed through multiple communities, right as opposed to just being a power plant in one place. That, of course, that power plant impact lots of folks around it, but it feels less immediate. A pipeline goes through lots of people's backyards or streets and, as a results, there is a larger swath of people to potentially mobilize and get involved in. That could be really exciting, can also be more challenging to get everyone on the same page. What did that look like for this fight and working with the other communities? You mentioned at the beginning, the seven towns who were plugged into this project right. So during that that's that summer, toward the end of that summer, which I call phase one of our resistance effort, when we were doing research, educating ourselves, trying to educate our legislators and our town officials about what was happening, we also engaged with other members of the well with other members of the seven communities, and formed a coalition group right from the get go, and that was one of...

...the best things we ever did. We agreed, I can remember that first meeting. We agreed to meet monthly. We agreed that we pledged that we would never work at cross purposes with any other community and that we instead we pledged to give one another as much support as was needed. I've made I've made a lot of friends. I The power of that coalition has been exponential in terms of the whole impact that that we have in our resistance. The other thing that I do want to say in terms of coalitions is that we really try to we really tried to work locally in terms of increasing our political power, because we soon realized, with the long that Ow Country Club at that point in time, that we were never going to get on their agenda ever as a topic. And so what we because of political leanings of the members who were in place, what we had to do in order to use the the the biweekly meetings to our advantage is we were denied, despite our requests, we were denied room on an agenda. We took advantage of the speak out sessions before the meetings, where each resident is allowed to speak for three minutes on a topic and one, two or three of us would each have our say, our three minutes Ay and educate the community that way. I was surprised to know that anywhere from two hundred, two three hundred people watch the long Meadow Select Board meetings on community TV. So we figured, okay, this is an opportunity. So the important thing we realized is that we needed an energy and sustainability committee to form in town. So I reached out to a friend of mine who had worked for fifteen years on climate actions and she brought together a proposal. I brought it before the select board to form it a local energy and sustainability a town committee. And town committees are really important because the select board has to if the chair of the energy and Sustainability Committee wants to make a presentation, they have to respond to that. They can't ignore that. And eventually people who are opposed. One of a person I knew to be opposed to this decided to run and he won. He he worked really hard on his campaign and he unseeded and incombent, which was kind of unheard of. So you know, right now we have out of the five select board members, four out of the five are, I would say, hardcore environmentalists, which is amazing, tremendous progress. Yeah, that's incredible. Congratulations. Yeah, I'm I just wanted to ask about what keeps you going. You know, this campaign has kind of a lot of ups and downs for people. Not I'm zoom with us, Miss I'll just put her head in her hands, but weird. Yeah, where do you find the hope and the drive to keep going? Well, you know the I do want to give a shout out to community action works because I will say that, you know, they're always ups and downs with any any resistance effort, any political movement, they're ups and downs. But during the time that we were preparing for an open hearing that was being sponsored by the Energy Facility Sighting Board with respect to the metering station, I got a phone call...

...from an organizer from Toxic Action Center, which is what community action works was was called two and a half years ago, and that organizer, she was really persistent, you know, she was wonderful. She was very inspiring. I mean everyone has fun members of Mary Jones because she had such a can do attitude. Boy, she was like you can do this, this is what you need to do and we brainstorm things with her and she helped me maximize our input. And then there's part of it as my inherent I'm a child of the six S and s. When I was in college we were, I was very active in the civil rights movement and the Antiwar Movement and you know, the whole notion of challenging the power structure. I don't know people I'm noticing. I notice, I have noticed for the past three years that this is something a lot of people are afraid to do. They're afraid to speak out, they're afraid to ask questions. It's very puzzling to me because I have this feeling that democracy only works when democracy is I don't want to when the power structure is challenge but you know, we can't be passive it. Democracy is not a spectator sport. I know that's a bumper sticker, but it really is true. You just can't hand back, hang back and let other people determine what's going to happen and I chase. Finally, the fact that I have my husband and I have a daughter, soninlaw and two children in northern California is it's heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time when our daughter married and moved to Northern California. I thought this is heaven on earth. Every time I visited I just was swept away by the beauty of this part of California. And now it is burned. It is burned to the ground. Some of these areas like Taho was, you know, near that the whole town was nearly threatened with the huge fire a couple of months ago. And she's got gas masks for her our grandchildren, you know, she's got gas masks that they have to wear when they go outside on some days during the fires. So it's very emotional. I look at I was just saying this to my husband, when I walk down the street and I see a young family with baby, I I'm almost swept away with concern and and I can I can cry very easily because I think what is this child going to be facing? We have got to do something so it you know, it's there's an infra apenny in for a pound. It's been three years of my life and I'm not going to give up now. And the other issue is just I just think morally we can't abandon what needs to be done. Definitely thank you for keeping up the fight. And thanks for I'm sure Mary Jones will appreciate that. Appreciated of and one thing that we have been asking all you know, given that this is the theme of this season, is around energy infrastructure and our grade operator. How how does is to England fit into this campaign around, you know, wanting to the ever source, building new gas infrastructure? How do those pieces fit together for you? Well,...

...you know, I find it shocking. It's it's actually totally bonkers that this is still a business plan, that this is still regarded as a reasonable goal for our energy system. I mean, why haven't we moved away from this idea? There's so much evidence that supports the fact that it's hurting US big time. But the notion that, the notion that ever source is barreling along and they haven't been stopped yet in building out infrastructure for a form of energy that we need to turn away from and I think a lot of people are turning away from. But they're building out an infrastructure that we, as rap pay years and as residents of the state are paying for that could quickly become stranded assets. Why are we spending I mean, I think I had to write this down because I tend to forget numbers, but you know, here it is in ever sources comprehensive business case and safety assessment, they have predicted that the overall cost of what they plan to do within x number of years in the future is going to be eight hundred sixty million dollars. On a moral level, on an environmental level, it's nuts, but also on a on a business level. You know, we've got the technology, WE'VE got I'm quoting at Marky. We've got the technology. We just need the political will to pursue a form of energy that's going to help us. And so I think with Isso New England, I think the same thing is happening and all of the New England states. It's this last gasp, grasping, you know, of trying to grab the last chunk of change, but without any regard to it's fiscal leader responsible in addition to everything else that's wrong with it. And you know, I I hope the people wake up to that. And when people ask them at a Springfield subcommittee meeting WHO's going to pay for this, they said, oh, that's the rate payer will pay for it. But understand, understand that we are going to disperse that cost within for all the rap payers, for all of our sources territory. Well, what you forgot to say is he forgot to talk about the eight hundred sixty million dollars that will also be dispersed and also be foisted on the rate payers shoulders on the along those lines, I don't think that the SPRINGSTEB climate justice coalition has been talking about with this is that as more folks make the transition away from gas, and especially those who can afford to do that sooner rather than later, the folks who are left still relying on gas are a lot of lower income communities that are been footing even more of this bill. It's really unfair. The last question that we've been asking everyone that we've been interviewing is what would you tell yourself? You know, looking back, you've been at the on this fight for a while now. I'm sure this is not what you expected when you decided to get involved in climate organizing and activism. But looking back, would you what would you tell yourself early on in their...

...fight? Well, it will be wonderful to say to our grandchildren. My husband is also involved in a lot of this. He now sits on the long meadow select board. He's one of the four environmentalists we know about. But I think both of us want to be able to say to young people, you know, we did our best, we really worked hard. We didn't, we didn't shirk our responsibilities as kind of the people in charge at this at this point. I mean so I'm hoping. I mean I have, I've given up years of knitting in order to do this. I just don't have the talks to it. But it will all be worthwhile if we can, we can, we can say that you know, we've done our best. I will say that a lot of times people say, well, what if this doesn't work out for long meadow, but what I'll say is, if things don't work out, what we have done is we have and we've educated a lot of people, we've motivated a lot of people and I think that in itself is advancing the cause. People are understanding. I mean, once ever source said publicly we are filing in November I started getting lots of emails from people saying I'll distribute the flyer in my neighborhood. So you know, yeah, yeah, you've built. You've built quite quite a campaign and it's definitely not anywhere close to over. There're still so much ahead. Just to give folks a little bit of an overview of where things are with this. After Columbia Gas, plenty of gas, was originally proposing nest a few years ago and then it was kind of put on pause for a little while and then ever source, but Columbia gas on the project and it's kind of picking it back up and just released the route for this proposed pipeline last week here in mid October. They're saying they're they're planning to have some open houses for the communities later this month and apply to the energy facility sighting board by the end of the year, which starts at two year process with the FSB. So that's kind of where things stand right now. Michelle, is are eating that you want to add? Any closing thoughts before we wrap up? Boy, I there's there's really is so much to say. I just think even though this is kind of a sophisticated concept, it was new concept to me when I started out. I wish the people keep in the back of their minds what the gas companies business model is. It is a model that involves socializing the costs of doing business and privatizing the profits. And you know, they have gotten away with this for years. And if people could get that into their heads that, you know, the cost of building the pipeline is coming out of any pipeline is coming out of the raypayers pocket. And we now have we now have gas companies that are going they are going full bore in laying new pipelines where a simple repair to a leak would suffice,...

...and there's no one telling them no. The other thing that I would like people to really act on is the mass safe program which is a wonderful a program. Our money, our money, has gone into creating the Treasury for mass saves. The Mass Save Program is under the Agis of ever source. Excuse me when I found that out. I mean it's like, yes, I curtius company would really be motivated to push a program that is going to mean that the homeowner uses less gas. So it is particular. It's just it is ridiculous. So I mean these are things that, you know, we need to be aware of and again, it's not something that the gas company's going to talk about. So I think that's that's what I want to leave people with. Thank you so much, Michelle, for joining us and sharing your story with us to support the pipeline campaign in long meadow and Springfield. Check out the links in the show notes. Thank you all for tuning in today. Join US next time as we take a bit of a step back from the local fights to talk about ISO New England as a whole, what's going on with our energy gride and what changes need to happen. Will be joined by Monte Pearson from Three Fifty Massachusetts, alice arena from the fore river residents against the compressor station, and John Walkey from green roots. And, if you have it yet, be sure to subscribe to this podcast on whichever podcast platform you use so that you won't miss new episodes as they get posted. Share this episode and write us a review to help others find us too. To learn more about community action works, check out our website and social media and again, all of these links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and talk with you next week. Stories from the front lines is brought to you by community action works. It is recorded by me near a PA Johnny, with support from Shanea Casper, edited and produced by Lilly McLaughlin. Special thanks to Theo Rosen for research and development, to Gage Calhoun for supporting this project through her fundraising work and to Aaron Matthew for composing and recording the original music. We wouldn't be able to make this happen without the incredible work of the movement and the support of the community action works team, especially Ruthy rickenbacker. Our campaigns are made possible through our do paying members, donors and funders, but really through the hard and tireless work of our community leaders, who've been fighting pollution and stating solutions across the region since one thousand and seven. Thank you.

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