Federal energy regulators on Wednesday approved a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, despite the vehement objections of residents, local officials and members of the congressional delegation, who warn it will jeopardize the town’s health and safety.
The permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission represents a major milestone for the 7,700-horsepower station, which would be built at the foot of the Fore River Bridge and help push natural gas from Pennsylvania into Maine and Canada.
But local officials have said the Houston-based Spectra Energy still cannot build the project until it gets the necessary environmental permits from the Baker administration, including state permits related to clean air, clean water, and coastal zone protections.
Mayor Robert L. Hedlund said Wednesday night that the city’s bid to kill the project is far from over.
“We’re disappointed, but [the ruling] wasn’t unexpected,” he said. “The track record of FERC is that they have been pro-industry, and they have been throughout their existence.”
He said the town plans to appeal FERC’s ruling to the agency itself and, if denied, may then file a federal lawsuit to stop the project. The town also hopes to deny Spectra the necessary state environmental permits.
“The community consensus is that we don’t want it,” Hedlund said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, which is part of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, will handle state permitting.
In a statement, Peter Lorenz, a spokesman for the energy agency, did not directly comment on the federal approval, but said the Baker administration “remains committed to diversifying the state’s energy portfolio and embracing advanced technologies to strengthen the state’s clean energy economy, stabilize and reduce energy costs,” among other energy improvements.
High-profile opponents of the project include Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and US Representative Stephen Lynch, all of whom have spoken out against the proposal.
“I am very disappointed that FERC failed to recognize the very serious effects the proposed compressor station will have on the families in the surrounding area,” Lynch said in a statement on Wednesday night. “This is not the end of our fight. I will continue to work with our state and local elected officials to pursue avenues to halt further permitting and encourage FERC to reconsider this decision.”
Attempts to reach other congressional leaders for comment were unsuccessful.
Alice Arena, lead organizer of the advocacy group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said in a phone interview that the commission’s ruling was “exceptionally disappointing” and vowed that her organization will continue pressing their case to state officials.
“It is absolutely not the last stage of the game,” she said of the federal approval for the project.
Marylee Hanley, a Spectra spokeswoman, said in a statement that the company is “pleased the [approval] Certificate has been issued following a comprehensive review and evaluation by FERC that included substantial public and agency participation throughout the pre-filing process and formal application review process.”
She said Spectra “will be in a better position to offer more specifics once we complete a full review of the Certificate.”
In a 101-page ruling on Wednesday, the federal regulators said construction of the station is “not expected to have a significant impact on air quality in the project area.”
In addition, the ruling stated that the compressor would be “constructed on a peninsula that is currently a mixture of open and industrial land surrounded by the Fore River and other industrial sites. ... [It] will be designed to blend in with the existing building on the peninsula and would not be out of character with the current visual landscape.”
Regulators also noted that some critics of the project fear it will spur “increased domestic natural gas production and that the excess project capacity will be used to supply gas for export as liquefied natural gas to countries outside of North America.”
The regulators, however, rejected that notion, writing that there is “no evidence that the Applicants are constructing the Atlantic Bridge Project for this purpose.”