MAYOR WALSH, LAWRENCE MAYOR RIVERA ADVOCATE FOR BETTER PROTECTIONS AGAINST NATURAL GAS LEAKS, CALL FOR MODERNIZING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE SAFETY OF ALL RESIDENTS

BOSTON – Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera today offered testimony before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy in support of legislation that would impose a fine on natural gas providers for the total volume of all grade 3 gas leaks, incentivizing the utility companies to update their infrastructure and providing revenue for climate-ready municipal projects. The legislation, “An Act to Modernize our Natural Gas Infrastructure,” is sponsored by Representative Ed Coppinger and Senator Mike Rush.

“Last year we watched in horror and in sympathy, as Lawrence and the Merrimack Valley were struck by natural gas explosions that destroyed homes and displaced thousands of families,” said Mayor Walsh. “For municipal leaders across the Commonwealth, and for all of our residents as well, these events brought into sharp focus the threat posed to our communities’ safety when natural gas infrastructure is neglected or mishandled. As elected officials, it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to keep our residents safe, and that’s why I’m proud to support this statewide legislation to hold gas providers accountable for the infrastructure they operate.”

“This legislation is important because any leak is a level one leak,” said Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera. “For an industry that has a hard time focusing and fixing level one breaks and has shown to be incapable of emergency situations, this legislation holds their feet to the fire on all leaks. I thank Mayor Walsh for his leadership on this matter.”

In 2017, utility companies reported 27,731 gas leaks in Massachusetts. By the end of that year, 15,829 had been repaired. Through this legislation, Mayors Walsh and Rivera are calling for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to hold gas providers accountable for the infrastructure they operate, and the impacts they have on residents.

The bill is part of Mayor Walsh’s legislative package, which builds upon Boston’s work to ensure equity, opportunity and resilience for all residents by strengthening current systems and creating new tools to adapt, mitigate and invest in local transportation and the environment.

Below are Mayor Walsh’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon Chairman Golden, Chairman Barrett and Committee members. My name is Martin J. Walsh, and I’m Mayor of Boston. I’m here today to testify in support of H.2828 & S.2012, “An Act to modernize our natural gas infrastructure,” sponsored by Rep. Ed Coppinger and Sen. Mike Rush.

I’m here with my colleague, Mayor Dan Rivera of Lawrence. Last year we watched, in horror and in sympathy, as Lawrence and the Merrimack Valley were struck by natural gas explosions that destroyed homes and displaced thousands of families. Mayor Rivera will tell you first-hand about those experiences.

For municipal leaders across the Commonwealth, and for all of our residents as well, these events brought into sharp focus the threat posed to our communities’ safety when natural gas infrastructure is neglected or mishandled, in any way.

In response, we formed a municipal working group with the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and various advocates and experts. I want to thank the advocates in the room today.

In Boston, we worked with the state’s Department of Public Utilities to assess our local infrastructure and increase safety requirements.

But what we found is that current regulations are not able to address the current harm, or the potential harm, that leaks pose to our communities. In 2017, utility companies reported 27,731 gas leaks in Massachusetts. By the end of that year, just 15,829 had been repaired-leaving nearly 12,000 active leaks. That’s concerning.

The reason is that Grade 3 leaks, currently not fined and not required to be fixed, are deemed “non-hazardous.” But these leaks emit significant amounts of gas. And we also know that this leaked gas is accelerating climate change, harming the environment, and harming public health. Furthermore, left unaddressed, these leaks can grow into a serious safety threat.

This is the principle of prevention we all understand. When you see a small water leak under your sink, you don’t ignore it-because you know that small leaks turn into big leaks, and big leaks are much harder to fix.

That’s why we have developed a statewide solution. Our legislation would impose a fine schedule and a repair time frame on natural gas providers based on the total volume of all gas leaks, including Grade 3. This approach would incentivize utility companies to update their infrastructure, it would incentivize them to repair leaks which are currently left unaddressed, and it would provide revenue for municipalities to mitigate the impacts to public health and climate change caused by these leaks.

Climate action is an important component of the bill. In Boston, we set a goal of being carbon free by the year 2050, to protect our city and help save our planet. We are rallying our public sector partners, our private sector partners, and our communities, to do the hard work necessary for meeting this goal. As a result, we’ve been named the most energy-efficient major city in the country, four times in a row. At the same time, we are investing tens of millions of dollars in resilient infrastructure to protect our neighborhoods from rising sea levels and storm surge. We are a leader on this issue.

Yet at the same time, every unaddressed gas leak is cancelling out a piece of our progress, even as we speak. We are simply asking the Commonwealth to hold gas providers accountable for the infrastructure they operate, and the impacts they have. This bill is a high priority for the City of Boston this legislative session, as we work to make our communities safe, healthy, and climate-friendly.

Before I close, I want to voice support of another piece of legislation you will hear today. H.2849 is filed by Representative Lori Ehrlich and Representative Christina Minicucci. It creates a bold and comprehensive path towards a transition to renewable energy.

I respectfully ask you to recommend passage of these important bills. I welcome continued conversation and discussion. And I’m pleased now to turn it over to Mayor Rivera, who can speak directly to the impacts of gas infrastructure in his community.

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