50 Rally

On June 22 in Springfield, despite rain, about 50 people attended a rally in support of the fair share amendment. It would create an extra 4 percent tax on the part of a person’s annual income above $1 million. The new revenue generated by the tax, approximately $2 billion a year, would be spent on public education and passenger trains and buses, among other things, all in Massachusetts. “The rally went well,” Andrew Farnitano told the Valley Post in a voice phone interview on June 24. He works for the group that organized the rally. The group has a web site at http://RaiseUpMA.org.

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The city of Chicopee, Massachusetts borders Holyoke and Springfield. People in Chicopee are trying to stop plans to pave 57 acres of open space. The USA is losing 6,000 acres of open space to development every day. The Chicopee activists have a web site at https://SlateConservationAreaAlliance.org. The Chicopee land is home to bald eagles, bobcats, and bears.

Glen Buckley is one of two moderators of the Alliance's Facebook group, which has 179 members. On June 21 he told the Valley Post, “Our supporters are grateful for all the media outlets willing to help us get the word out.”

Derek Dobosz is a member of the Chicopee city council, and a supporter of the Alliance. On June 21 he told the Valley Post, “I first learned about this issue from abutters who received letters about planning board meetings around six months ago and I have been fighting development here ever since. I was captain of cross country team at Chicopee high school and my course was on this land. I always thought it was part of Chicopee state park. This land represents about a third of what most of my constituents think the state park is. Residents have a petition with more than 500 signatures and another petition with more than 100 signatures opposing development.... There has been almost zero transparency from the city and the state government.”

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On July 1, a Springfield-based union is set to get about 65 or 70 new members. The workers will be employed by the Easthampton, Massachusetts branch of the River Valley food co-op, which opens that day. The workers have a web site at www.ufcw1459.com.

In the USA, union workers make an average of $191 more per week, compared to workers who don't have a union. Reducing inequality is good for democracy, since billionaires buy politicians. In the Valley, all UPS and Stop and Shop workers belong to a union. That means billionaires make less money and workers make more.

Hundreds of workers at the Brattleboro Retreat mental hospital are union members. So are workers at hospitals in Greenfield, Northampton and Springfield; and at the food co-ops in Northampton, Greenfield, and Brattleboro.

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On June 14, the Boston Globe published an editorial in support of passenger train improvements that would, among other things, bring much faster train service between Brattleboro and the Pioneer Valley, and New York city. The Globe article supports a group pushing for these changes. The group has a web site at https://NorthAtlanticRail.org.

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Marty Nathan is a medical doctor in the Valley, and a member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. On June 16, she told the Valley Post:

Last week energy transport pipelines got a whole lot more attention than they usually do. After more than a decade of intense resistance, the plans for the massive Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline were finally canceled after President Biden rescinded its construction permit in a step to stop climate change.

Meanwhile in northern Minnesota, thousands of people protested the construction of the massive Line 3 pipeline, which is intended to carry up to a million barrels a day of polluting, carbon-intensive tar sands across the state. It threatens indigenous wild rice fields and the headwaters of the Mississippi River while canceling out much of the new Administrations planned cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Both events were part of the macro shift in our energy world that we have been told repeatedly by all the world’s experts is necessary if we are to avoid the devastating, extinction-producing effects of run-away climate change. As conservative an outfit as the International Energy Agency said bluntly last month that we must end support for new fossil fuel projects and rapidly deploy energy efficiency and non-combustion alternatives as critical first steps in keeping the rise in average global temperatures below 1.5 degrees. Fossil fuel companies, however, are fighting tooth and nail to hang on to markets and quick profits rather than facing the scientific and economic music.

In Springfield we face a smaller-scale version of the battle. In 2017 the now-defunct Columbia Gas of Massachusetts proposed what it called a “Reliability” plan which actually was set to expand gas supply to Northampton and Holyoke in the west and Longmeadow and Springfield in the east by building large, high-pressure gas pipelines either side of the Connecticut River. Residents backed local governments first in Northampton then in Holyoke in opposing their portion of the plan, killing it in 2019.

The conversation had been shaped in part by Columbia’s massive, fatal explosion in Lawrence which reminded us all that gas pipelines were, among other things, dangerous. After being forced to pay damages Columbia was forced to sell out to Eversource Energy.

The remaining Longmeadow-Springfield pipeline was already being fought by residents of both cities. In Longmeadow, Town Meeting had gone as far as adopting ordinances that oppose fossil fuel infrastructure construction in a residential neighborhood (exactly where the proposed pipeline and its metering station are slated to go) and set aside funds for legal fees to fight the project.

Despite the local resistance and new directives by the state to utilities to start now planning their transition off natural gas and a new Massachusetts climate bill that says in no uncertain terms that the state must cut all greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in only nine years, Eversource announced it was going ahead with the project. It will spend tens of millions of ratepayers’ (That’s us, folks.) dollars to build a large (16 inch), high-pressure (200 psi) pipeline through low-income neighborhoods and, almost certainly, Forest Park to deliver gas to downtown Springfield. It has never claimed that there is a supply problem in either of the two communities.

What there is is a pollution problem. Springfield has very high asthma rates, linked to its air pollution, and for two years was designated the “Asthma Capital of the Country.” Nationwide, pollution kills more than 200,000 Americans per year. Indoor pollution from gas stoves is known to cause respiratory disease in children.

And our world has a gas problem. Natural gas = methane a greenhouse gas 80 times as potent as CO2 in the short term. A recent United Nations Report documented that atmospheric methane, is much more of a threat than ever understood and thus… “Expansion of natural gas infrastructure and usage is incompatible with keeping warming to 1.5° C.”

So why build something that is dangerous (Remember the downtown gas explosion in 2012?), polluting, expensive, climate-killing, delivers unnecessary gas and is contrary to present climate law and policy?

The positions taken by Eversource’s backers are:

1. The present pipeline to Springfield over the Memorial Bridge, is old, leaky and at risk. Well, neither Columbia nor Eversource has said as much in official filings. And wouldn’t the most reliable alternative be switching now to efficient electric heating and cooking, the long-term fix , rather than wasting tens of millions on a pipeline that will soon be abandoned?

2. To convert our heating and cooking to efficient electric is useless because our grid is powered by fossil fuels. Let’s read the newspapers. A main clean energy focus of both the Biden and Baker Administrations is offshore wind which will feed our state’s economy and green our grid.

3. Gas is cheaper than electricity, so low-income people need it. Couple of answers here: Gas is cheap in part because our tax dollars subsidize it. And if those tens of millions of pipeline dollars were directed instead to subsidizing heat pumps and induction stoves for those who need it, electric would be cheaper. If they aren’t, everyone but poor and working people will convert off gas and leave those who can least afford it paying the bill for this white elephant pipeline.

The transition off fossil fuels is necessary and inevitable. Leaked documents show Eversource is leading the charge to retain its profits from a toxic product. Time to stop another pipeline.

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