The battle over building natural gas pipelines in New England is escalating.
A new coalition of large industrial users of electricity is planning to launch a cable television ad blitz next week that pushes for new pipelines in New England to boost the flow of natural gas to the region and, the group says, lower energy prices.
The Coalition to Lower Energy Costs — whose formation was spearheaded by a Maine lawyer with ties to a Texas company that wants to build a new gas pipeline in Massachusetts — plans to start running 30-second TV ads on Monday on NECN, MSNBC, CNN, Discovery, History Channel, and other cable channels.
The lawyer, Tony Buxton, would not disclose how much the coalition is spending on the campaign, but said the commercial will run hundreds of times during the coming weeks, as part of an effort to convince residents and policy makers of the importance of new and expanded gas pipelines in the region.
Buxton, who also represents Maine companies that use large amounts of electricity, said the coalition hopes to “eventually raise hundreds of thousands of dollars” for its campaign. Buxton said he has asked Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP, the Houston firm proposing a new pipeline through Massachusetts, to help fund the effort.
Kinder Morgan is not yet a full member of the coalition, said Buxton, who has represented one the firms subsidiaries in a Maine regulatory hearing. A spokesman for Kinder Morgan said the company has not made a decision whether to join the coalition, but agrees with its goals.
Kinder Morgan’s proposal to extend its Tennessee Gas Pipeline into Massachusetts, running from Richmond on the New York border to Dracut, near Lowell, is referred to in the upcoming 30-second TV spot. The pipeline is fiercely opposed by many environmentalists and residents in communities through which it would run.
So far, the Coalition to Lower Energy Costs includes big users of power, such as pulp and paper mills, and two unions concerned about rising electricity prices, said Buxton. The group is courting companies in Massachusetts to join its efforts.
It has sought support from the New England office of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents more than 65,000 construction workers in the region, about 20,000 of them in Massachusetts.
Adam Lupino, regional policy coordinator for the union, said the union has not decided whether to join the coalition. But he said the union, with many members who regularly work on pipeline projects, is generally sympathetic to the coalition’s aims.
Buxton said the coalition is looking out for consumers about to be hit hard by skyrocketing electric prices tied to shortages of natural gas used to generate power in the region.
But Greg Cunningham, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston advocacy group, said it’s “misleading and disingenuous” to say Buxton’s group is representing consumers. The coalition is ultimately representing the interests of energy companies that want new pipelines built in New England, he said.
“This is a thinly veiled attempt to suggest they’re representing consumers,” said Cunningham. “But at the same time, they have their hat out to get money from consumers to pay for these pipelines.”
If federal regulators approve pipeline projects, customers would pay surcharges to help cover the costs.
Upcoming winter electric rate increases are blamed on an inadequate pipeline network unable to carry enough natural gas to meet growing demand from households, businesses, and power generators.
Many environmentalists oppose new pipelines, saying they are not needed and will only increase the region’s dependence on fossil fuels, which produce carbon pollutants that contribute to climate change.