The Energy Consumer's Bulletin- a New England energy news blog

The Natural Gas Pipeline Tax is Not Dead Yet. We Have Work to Do.

Posted by Eugenia T. Gibbons on Friday, July 08, 2016 @ 03:04 PM

Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed S.2400: An act to promote energy diversity. Included in the bill was Amendment #1, a unanimously adopted prohibition of the proposed “pipeline tax.” Readers of this blog are aware that Mass Energy is strongly opposed to proposals by Eversource and National Grid to increase rates on Massachusetts electricity customers in order to finance Spectra’s Access Northeast $3 billion gas pipeline. We are thrilled that the State Senate has done its part to kill this bad idea, but the game is not over.

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The House (H.4385) and Senate bills will be reconciled in a conference committee that includes Senators Downing, Pacheco, and Tarr and Representatives Golden, Dempsey, and Jones. In order for the pipeline tax prohibition to prevail, the language adopted by the Senate must be included in the final bill released by this committee. You can take action to make this happen, but first, here’s what you need to know:

  • Governor Baker’s Department of Public Utilities has stated that it’s legal for electric utilities to charge their ratepayers for an investment in natural gas pipelines. This unprecedented cost recovery scheme is currently being challenged by the Conservation Law Foundation before the Supreme Judicial Court. We are awaiting a decision by the SJC.  Meanwhile, believing they have the ability to charge customers in this way, the utilities have filed two proposals with the DPU that, if approved, would help enable construction of Spectra’s Access Northeast project at the expense of electric customers. Mass Energy is working with CLF and other groups to oppose the proposals, but given that the DPU gave the utilities the green light, we are not sanguine about our chances with the DPU.
  • The Massachusetts House passed an energy bill on June 8 that could have included a provision outlawing the pipeline tax. But for reasons unknown to me and about which I can only speculate, a vote on the “pipeline tax” amendments that were filed in the House, never occurred. This is because, at the last minute, nearly all 61 of the amendments that had been filed were either withdrawn or laid aside as beyond the scope of the bill. A vote in the House did not occur on this issue even though 97 Representatives, a majority, signed a letter expressing support for the amendment.
  • On June 30, the State Senate passed its own energy bill – a bill that is much better than the House on several issues. Included in the bill was an amendment to kill the pipeline tax. It passed unanimously, 39-0. As noted by Senator Jehlen, the amendment’s sponsor, this success is directly attributable to feedback from and actions taken by constituents. “Residents from all over the Commonwealth came together, reached out to my colleagues and I, and told us that they did not want to be responsible for shielding electric companies from risk by paying for the construction of gas pipelines.” If legislators are allowed to choose between a pipeline tax and no pipeline tax, they will vote to kill the pipeline tax.
  • Conferees from the House and Senate have been announced. They are tasked with hashing out the many details on their energy bills. We hope the Senate language on the pipeline tax, and many other things, will be adopted. To ensure that happens, we need you to contact your State Representative and ask them to reach out to the House members on the conference committee and the Speaker of the House asking them to approve the Senate language.

If legislation is not passed to kill the pipeline tax and the SJC rules that it’s legal, we can bet that the DPU will let it happen. In leaving it to the DPU to approve this “pipeline tax” the Baker Administration has employed a clever strategy, attempting to avoid a legislative vote to kill the tax.  However, the vote was taken in the Senate and it can be upheld by the House. In signing the aforementioned letter, a majority of the House already publicly stated their opposition to the proposal. House conferees have an opportunity to honor this and hopefully with enough pressure, they will.

Your representative’s contact information can be found here.

Tags: Energy policy & advocacy, Massachusetts

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