BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — State Rep. John Keenan’s move to exempt a proposed natural-gas power plant on the Salem waterfront from regulatory appeals is a “sweetheart deal” for an out-of-state developer and a “poison pill” that endangers an important bill, according to a statement released yesterday by a number of social action and environmental groups.
Keenan, chairman of the House Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, stirred up a storm last week when he added language to legislation aimed at preventing natural-gas leaks. The goal of his amendment, Keenan said, is to prevent “frivolous” appeals filed to delay construction of the Salem plant.
The Conservation Law Foundation, a leading environmental advocacy group, called Keenan’s action “unconstitutional and unconscionable.” Now, others are joining the protest.
“This is a sweetheart deal to the out-of-state power plant proponents by exempting them from required health, safety, environmental and public trust regulations,” the statement reads. “Furthermore, it will create a dangerous precedent for other projects which seek exemption from public review. As a result, this amendment is a ‘poison pill,’ which will inevitably lead to litigation resulting in dangerous delays for important legislation to fix our gas infrastructure...
“We cannot allow this amendment to jeopardize or delay the progress of gas leaks legislation. Worse, it threatens to sink crucial worker safety measures ... All of us stand in strong opposition to this amended legislation, which is aimed to benefit a single out-of-state fossil fuel company. We hope a clean gas leaks bill, without this poison pill, passes soon.”
The bill currently is in the House Ways and Means Committee.
The statement was signed by representatives from HealthLink, Clean Water Action, MASSPIRG, Gas Safety USA, the Sierra Club, 350 Massachusetts and others.
Keenan took issue with the statement, saying he is not trying to exempt Footprint Power’s proposed plant from required health and safety regulations, noting that it has already received permits from state and local agencies and gone through more than a year of extensive reviews. His aim, he said, is to prevent appeals aimed only at delaying or killing the project.
Keenan’s amendment was filed after the Conservation Law Foundation appealed a key approval the plant received recently from the state Energy Facilities Siting Board.
This new plant will improve the environment by replacing power from more polluting plants and generate needed electricity to meet future demand, according to Keenan. If this plant, which is scheduled to open in 2016, is delayed, it could result in “rolling brownouts,” he said.
In addition to providing needed power for this region, the plant will spark more development at the Salem Harbor Station site and benefit the city financially, Keenan said.
“I’ll tell you who it’s a sweetheart deal for — the citizens of Salem,” Keenan said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.