Mar 2015 hero

Our March Green Hero features the organizers behind MassPLAN, (the Massachusetts Pipe-Line Awareness Network) a coalition of groups and organizations opposed to the proposed Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct (“NED”) Project and a shining example for regional collaboration towards energy democracy. 

Kinder Morgan originally pitched their project as “The Bullet Pipeline – A straight shot to Dracut!” Little did they expect that within a few months, a robust grassroots network would form to deflect and delay their plan. After dozens of community teach-ins, 44 municipal resolutions and a march to the State House, the proposed fracked gas pipeline project has been delayed and the route changed several times. With each revision to the proposed route, the network of towns in opposition has grown.

Cummington resident Rosemary Wessel first posted to social media saying “I'm planning on fighting this, who's with me?” She heard from many dozens of online friends, including neighbors with information they obtained directly from the Kinder Morgan surveyors. From there, Rose and others established as a clearinghouse of information on the issue. An initial meeting in March 2014 drew an overflowing crowd concerned about the pipeline. Pockets of local communities looked around at each other and realized: “This is big.”

In the following weeks, the Hilltown Community Rights Group in Ashfield and the North Quabbin Pipeline Action Group formed and started engaging communities along the route, sharing what was known about the proposed pipeline, and what rights and means people had to oppose it. In May, at the first statewide summit hosted in Athol, most communities along the proposed route were represented. A small group of dedicated organizers stepped up to form MassPLAN as a venue for state-wide organization.

“We are fortunate to have such a bad project to oppose,” notes Ivan Ussach, an organizer with MassPLAN. The gas that would travel through the pipeline is a chemical cocktail originating from the environmentally destructive process of hydro-fracking, and would be destined for export to international markets. Local land-owners are also concerned about the safety of the pipeline and its impact on property values.

Cummington resident Katy Eiseman, a lawyer by training, has been serving as a consultant for the Hilltown Land Trust and the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions. She helped contribute to the No Fracked Gas in Mass website in its earliest days, before starting the MassPLAN website last spring in order to reach a broader array of stakeholders. Along with Ms. Eiseman MassPLAN's executive committee members are Ken Hartlage, President of Nashoba Conservation Trust, Jane Winn, Executive Director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Jim Cutler, Lead Organizer of Hilltown Community Rights, Ivan Ussach, Steering Committee Member of North Quabbin Pipeline Action and Rosemary Wessel, Founder of No Fracked Gas in Mass.

The group's role is to provide information and suggestions, rather than telling local groups how to act. They provide a central clearinghouse of “high fidelity” information, resources and expertise. It's the local communities, they say, who know how best to reach their neighbors, how to work with their local government and deal with each unique scenario. The statewide forum allows communities to share lessons, inspiration and educations materials, including sample resolutions, ordinances, and signs, etc. The movement against this pipeline has had the benefit of learning from similar struggles across the nation.

Ironically, Kinder Morgan has been the best recruiter for the movement. Every time they revise the proposed pipeline route a new set of communities connect with the MassPLAN network. At first, organizers were concerned that communities, once off the chopping block, would no longer be involved. They witnessed the opposite: communities come to realize that no one deserves to have this project in their back yard. No community deserves to have their groundwater poisoned by the fracking process which provides this dirty fossil fuel, or to be impacted globally by continued dependence on fossil fuels. People are realizing that “we are all truly one family, with one very large back yard.”

Widespread grassroots concern and anger over this project, combined with the organizing efforts of several individuals able to convey technical information, has allowed the network to evolve, as Jim Cutler puts it, into “a very cohesive but amorphous organization along the pipeline route.” Kinder Morgan officials have admitted that they were not expecting this kind of resistance.

Not only have communities thus far been able to delay and confound the path of this unnecessary and short-sighted project, the campaign has also served to showcase an expanding set of true solutions for our energy future: energy efficiency, renewable energy, and democratic involvement in the whole process.

"Putting much of ordinary life on hold to stop this project from forever changing the region we all love, and letting yet another corporation take control of many thousands of lives is a small price to pay," said Rosemary. And now, because of the foresight and efforts of this small group, communities across the region have a forum in which to connect, collaborate, and support each other for the long haul.

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