Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Directive includes a plan to build a new 36-inch high-pressure natural-gas pipeline across 45 Massachusetts towns. This company will be applying to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a license that would give them federal eminent-domain rights for the project. If granted, such rights would allow them to take a 100-foot easement for pipeline construction from any of the more than 1,000 affected landowners with whom they could not reach a voluntary agreement.
Granting a private, for-profit company this type of power over the property rights of so many organizations and individuals is a matter of grave concern and one that demands intense scrutiny from officials at all levels of government. And it also demands that the need for a project that could result in the taking of so much private property be determined in an open, public forum where all interested parties are invited to participate and comment.
I believe that there are two specific steps that are necessary before such eminent-domain use can be justified:
1.) An open, public examination of New England's current and future energy needs must occur. Such an examination must give full consideration to available conservation measures, alternative energy sources, repair of existing pipeline leaks, the effects on climate change, etc., as well as the more conventional topics of peak energy needs, plans for the decommissioning of existing power plants, etc.
2.) If Step 1 above does determine that New England has energy needs that must be met through the construction of new infrastructure in the form of a new natural-gas pipeline, there must once again be an open, public process in which all interested parties are invited to participate in and comment upon the determination of the proper route for such a pipeline. It is simply not acceptable to have a private company determine its preferred pipeline route in a closed, secretive process and then present it as the only option available. There are obviously tradeoffs concerning cost and convenience where a private company's pipeline routing preferences might differ greatly from those of the public-at-large.
In summary, granting a private company the ability to override the rights of so many Massachusetts property owners with eminent-domain powers is a gravely serious matter. Before such powers are granted, common sense demands that the necessity for taking such a step be justified in a completely open and public forum. Allowing such matters to be decided behind closed doors is simply wrong and will foster citizens' feelings of the indifference of and the betrayal by officials at all levels of government.