Taking Big Gas to Court

Veronica Eady

Yesterday, CLF appeared before Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court in a case that could dramatically impact our climate future in the Commonwealth and across New England. At the heart of the case is whether the state’s Department of Public Utilities can force businesses and families to finance multi-million-dollar investments in new natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure through surcharges on our electricity bills.

We say they can’t. Such a move is unprecedented, illegal, and irresponsible. It gives an unfair market advantage to Big Gas and it places an unfair burden on electricity consumers, who will be saddled with the costs of outdated fossil fuel infrastructure for a generation or more.

The effects of those long-term costs go beyond our wallets, however. Locking us into burning more natural gas for the next 30 years essentially means giving up any hope of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to the levels scientists say are necessary to avert the worst impacts of climate change. It would also hamper much-needed investments in home-grown clean energy like wind and solar.

In an ironic twist to the case, standing alongside CLF staff attorney David Ismay yesterday were attorneys from energy company ENGIE (formerly GDF Suez) and the state Attorney General’s office. Normally the Attorney General would defend the Department of Public Utilities. But instead, Attorney General Healey’s office opted to serve in the role of consumer advocate, protecting the interests of electricity customers like you and me and leaving the DPU represented by private counsel.

The outcome of this case will shape more than just Massachusetts’ energy future, as similar deals with Big Gas are being considered in Maine and New Hampshire as well. A favorable decision by the Supreme Judicial Court here in Massachusetts will set a critical precedent for proceedings in these other New England states, especially since those of us living in the Commonwealth are being asked to pay the lion’s share of the cost of their pipeline proposals.

This was CLF’s second appearance before Massachusetts’ highest court in just four months. It follows our January argument against the state Department of Environmental Protection over its failure to put in place regulations that ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions annually – a pathway to ensuring that Massachusetts meets its Global Warming Solutions Act goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below a 1990 baseline by 2020.

Both cases question the wisdom of investing in a fossil fuel industry that’s already on its way out – an investment that’s far too risky for our economy and our climate.

CLF will continue our fight against Big Gas and these ill-conceived proposals currently under consideration by our state officials – and keep pushing for smart investments in the clean, renewable energy we need to power our homes and businesses and spare our climate for generations to come.

Watch a video of our testimony >>

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