Turning The Tide on Dirty Energy: MA Supreme Judicial Court Weighs In

David Ismay

For the second time this summer, the highest court in the Commonwealth has ruled unanimously and unambiguously in CLF’s favor, confirming that it is illegal for the Baker administration to force businesses and families to subsidize the construction of private gas pipelines via a tax on our monthly electric bills. The court’s wise decision—together with Massachusetts’ commitment to get almost a third of its power by 2025 from wind and hydropower—is a shot across the bow of the fossil fuel industry and its darling dirty-energy generators.

Court Agrees: Pipeline Tax is Risky and Illegal

For the past year, CLF has been on the frontlines of the pipeline tax battle. We’ve been fighting in New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to stop our governments from tipping the scales in favor of the dirty and dying fossil fuel industry as it tried to profit at the expense of New England’s businesses and families.

CLF took its case in Massachusetts to the Supreme Judicial Court after the state’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) paved the way for a new pipeline that would have been paid for through a so-called “pipeline tax” on our electric bills. In its decision last week, the Court recognized that such a scheme represented an unlawful end-run around 86 years of settled law requiring a separation between gas and electric companies. What’s more, it would unacceptably “reexpose ratepayers to the very types of risks that the Legislature sought to protect them from” when it restructured the state’s energy system by switching to a market-based system almost two decades ago.

New Pipelines Aren’t Needed

Last fall, Attorney General Maura Healey released a comprehensive analysis that showed that New England does not need big new pipelines in order to keep both our lights on and heat pumping in the winter. Three other independent studies conducted in Maine over the past year similarly concluded that the costs for new pipelines far outweigh the benefits. The market reached the same conclusion earlier this year when fossil fuel giant Kinder Morgan, after losing $170 million of its shareholders’ money, cancelled its controversial Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project (which would have slashed its way across New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts) for lack of willing customers.

The price spikes of the 2013–14 winter have proven themselves an anomaly, and across the region New Englanders are growing our businesses (and the economy!) year-over-year while using less, rather than more, electricity and gas. In that context, forcing hardworking folks in Massachusetts or any New England state to spend our money on a big new, private pipeline isn’t just illegal. It’s a terrible, costly mistake we thankfully won’t be making here.

Our Clean Energy Future is Now

Last week’s decision isn’t just important in Massachusetts, however. The Commonwealth is the lynchpin in the New England-wide effort to build out more unnecessary gas pipeline and force electric customers pick up the multi-billion-dollar bill. So last week’s decision is a victory for all New England families and businesses – and for the clean energy future that our changing climate demands. The tide is turning on dirty fossil fuels – New England’s energy future is, and will be, clean, affordable, and renewable.

You can read the court’s decision here and more about CLF’s fight to curb dirty energy in New England here.

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