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Federal regulators allow Weymouth compressor station to continue operating

The Weymouth compressor stationJohn Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2020

In a blow to opponents of the controversial Weymouth compressor station, federal regulators on Thursday declined to revoke its authorization to continue operating.

But the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said regulators “likely erred” in allowing the station to be built so close to a residential area, and though they could not shut it down, he hoped this would be a “turning point” so that “history does not repeat itself.”

“Although it is cold comfort for the residents near the compressor station, I hope that this proceeding will serve as a turning point for the commission, as we work to better consider, address, and act on issues of environmental justice,” said Richard Glick, FERC’s chairman, in a statement.

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The opponents had hoped for a different outcome after the commission, following a succession of unplanned shutdowns and emergency gas releases at the compressor station, announced last week that it would take up concerns about the $100 million Weymouth facility at Thursday’s monthly meeting.

A year ago, the commission ruled it had previously improperly refused to hear from neighbors and environmental advocates who have long opposed the compressor station, which they say presents health and safety risks to the densely populated Fore River Basin.

At an online meeting of the commission, Glick said he concluded that the decision to allow the compressor station to continue operating was the “correct conclusion as a legal matter.”

“I don’t take any joy in that conclusion,” he said. “The commission should never have approved the proposal to locate it where it is in a heavily populated area with two environmental justice committees, and a higher rate of cancer and asthma, due to heavy industrial activity.”

In his statement after the meeting, Glick said there was no legal basis to shut down the compressor station. “The deficiencies in the now-final certificate do not provide a legal basis to prevent the Weymouth compressor station from entering service.”

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The compressor station has been a source of debate at the commission for years, and discussion of whether to revoke its authorization had been delayed as a result of a political deadlock, with Democrats citing concerns about its safety and environmental impact and Republicans citing the need to maintain the reliability of the energy system.

In November, a new Democratic appointee joined the commission, giving Democrats a majority of the five seats. That had offered a glimmer of hope to the compressor’s opponents that the panel might vote to shut it down. But all three Democrats at the hearing said they concluded there was no legal basis to do so.

“We are grossly disappointed by the outcome of today’s FERC meeting, though not at all surprised,” said Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station. “While we appreciate that Chairman Glick is trying to steer the FERC ship in the right direction, going backwards is not the best way to do that. Simply stating that ‘we made a mistake’ five years ago, but we are going to do nothing about it, except say ‘sorry,’ is not just cold comfort; it’s a doubling down of FERC’s business as usual.”

She said her group “is not going away, nor are we conceding defeat. Our communities and our planet deserve nothing more from us than all we have to give.”

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The 7,700-horsepower compressor was built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline giant, as part of its $600 million Atlantic Bridge project. The compressor can pump 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from Weymouth to Maine and Canada.

Max Bergeron, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the company was “pleased with FERC’s decision not to advance a reexamination of matters which have already been extensively reviewed as part of a multiyear public process.”

He added: “Natural gas infrastructure is vital to keeping the heat and lights on for families and businesses, particularly during cold weather. We remain committed to safely and responsibly delivering natural gas for New England families and businesses.”

FERC’s decision comes nearly a year after Governor Charlie Baker signed a law requiring the state to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050.

Baker administration officials declined to comment.

Senator Edward Markey, who has long criticized FERC for authorizing the compressor to operate, said he would continue fighting to shut it down.

“It is an understatement to say that I am deeply disappointed,” he said in a statement. “Doing better going forward isn’t going to help the people of Weymouth living right now in the shadow of this dangerous fossil fuel facility. We’re going to fight with legislation, with the agencies, and shoulder-to-shoulder with local leaders and grassroots activists to get the compressor station shut down once and for all.”


David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.