Testimony in Support of H.3137/SD.2603

An Act Relative to Intervenors and Utility Work 

Empowering Municipal Voices

Newton City Councilors 

Susan Albright, President, Rick Lipof, Vice President, Alison M. Leary, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 1, Maria Scibelli Greenberg, Ward Councilor, Ward 1, Tarik Lucas, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 2, Emily Norton, Ward Councilor, Ward 2, Andrea W. Kelley, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 3, Pamela Wright, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 3, Julia Malakie, Ward Councilor, Ward 3, Joshua Krintzman, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 4, Christopher Markiewicz, Ward Councilor, Ward 4, Deb Crossley, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 5, Andreae Downs, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 5, Bill Humphrey, Ward Councilor, Ward 5, Alicia Bowman, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 6, Vicki Danberg, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 6, Brenda Noel, Ward Councilor, Ward 6, Marc C. Laredo, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 7, Holly Ryan, Ward Councilor, Ward 8

Newton City Councilors, June 5, 2023 (Link to pdf)

Dear Chair Barrett and Chair Roy,

We are writing in full support of An Act relative to intervenors and utility work HB. 3137, sponsored by Rep. Armini and the Senate version SB.2603 sponsored by Sen. Creem. This legislation would be a game changer for municipalities like Newton who are struggling with their aging, leaky gas infrastructure. Passage would allow municipalities the authority to request more information from the utilities in order to be able to make informed decisions regarding the benefits of repair and retirement versus wholesale pipeline replacement. It would allow cities and towns to request information including, but not limited to, a real time map of the gas infrastructure, the age and condition of the pipes, the type and size of a pipe material, the repair history, the estimated annual cost of lost gas and the costs of repair versus replacement.

This bill is critical for the City of Newton, as well as other communities working towards meeting both climate action goals and improving public safety. Newton has some of the oldest gas infrastructure in the country. We average 3 Grade 1 gas leaks a week! Altogether, we have some 700 gas leaks at any one time. We have private citizens monitoring a leaking 16 inch main along Walnut Street which has been the site of manhole explosions and chronic leaks, including Grade 1 leaks. Our Newton constituents are worried.

The current gas pipeline maintenance system is essentially a game of whack a mole and we make little to no progress on reducing methane gas leaks. We need a city-wide plan and a local working group to partner with Ngrid to achieve meaningful risk and emissions reduction through strategies such as effective advanced leak repair technology, while identifying opportunities for efficiently retiring pipelines and transitioning to a safer non-emitting renewable thermal energy such as a geothermal system.

However, without the authority to engage with the utility it is almost impossible to implement a city-wide plan. The Public Facilities Committee reviews regular requests for grants of location (GOL) for wholesale replacement of pipes, some of which have only few minor leaks. Some GOL’s appear to be driven by the need to pave the street rather than by the seriousness of the leaks. We ask about targeted repair and are always told it is not a workable option. The gas work is a big factor in the poor condition of many of our streets. But Ngrid does not consider repair or re-lining of pipes even though it could be done with much less cost and less disruption and damage to our roads. GSEP incentivizes the wholesale replacement of all the pipes and that is what Ngrid does while putting the cost squarely on the backs of the ratepayers. It is an untenable situation.

HB. 3137 and SB.2603 are uncomplicated, straightforward bills that would allow communities to quickly partner with the utility to immediately address the most dangerous leaks and find more cost-effective methods to triage, repair and eventually retire our gas infrastructure. Please vote quickly to pass this bill favorably out of the TUE Committee.


Susan Albright, President

Rick Lipof, Vice President

Alison M. Leary, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 1

Maria Scibelli Greenberg, Ward Councilor, Ward 1

Tarik Lucas, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 2

Emily Norton, Ward Councilor, Ward 2

Andrea W. Kelley, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 3

Pamela Wright, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 3

Julia Malakie, Ward Councilor, Ward 3

Joshua Krintzman, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 4

Christopher Markiewicz, Ward Councilor, Ward 4

Deb Crossley, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 5

Andreae Downs, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 5

Bill Humphrey, Ward Councilor, Ward 5

Alicia Bowman, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 6

Vicki Danberg, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 6

Brenda Noel, Ward Councilor, Ward 6

Marc C. Laredo, Councilor-at-Large, Ward 7

Holly Ryan, Ward Councilor, Ward 8

Mothers Out Front Newton / Leadership Team

Dear Senator Barrett, and TUE Committee members,

You can’t walk down a street in Newton without smelling gas. As members of Mothers out Front Newton, we have seen first hand how difficult it has been to get meaningful information about the large number of gas leaks in our neighborhoods. (HEET estimates that there are over 700 leaks in Newton). Not only are these leaks spewing methane into the air we breathe, we also know methane gas is a huge contributor to the climate crisis. 

Mothers Out Front Newton have been working to educate our community about the dangers of fossil gas and the benefits of Triage and Transition - a plan to identify and fix the most dangerous leaks and the high volume leaks first and accelerate building electrification.

We are very concerned about potential gas explosions, especially after what National Grid refers to as a “manhole issue” just a few months ago. There has been no transparency about what occurred and we know that a large number of leaks are in areas that are co-located with high voltage lines. 

Our Newton leaders and residents need real time information and collaboration from National Grid. It is unacceptable that municipal officials do not have the authority to act in the best interests of our community and don’t have a voice in the decisions that are made about managing the old leaking gas system under our streets.  

We urge you to report bill H.3171/SD.2603 out of the committee favorably.

Mothers Out Front Newton / Leadership Team

Cindy Callaway

Melanie Renaud

Barbara DiVitto

Cynthia Mapes

Judith Boroschek

Ellie Goldberg

Ellie Goldberg, Newton’s Campaign for A Future WithOut Gas and For Clean Energy (AFWOG.org)....

To the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, June 5, 2023

From  Ellie Goldberg, 79 Elmore St, Newton, MA 02459  JUNE 5, 2023

Dear Legislators,

I am writing as a member of Newton’s Campaign for A Future WithOut Gas and For Clean Energy (AFWOG.org). AFWOG was organized by members of Mothers Out Front Newton, 350Mass Newton, and Green Newton who share a sense of urgency to achieve the safety and economic security of clean energy and to reduce the enormous cost, risk, waste and pollution of Newton’s leaky gas pipelines.

We are alarmed that National Grid is installing miles of high pressure hydrogen-ready pipes in our community. Newton’s Department of Public Works’ weekly construction schedule lists anywhere from 20 to over 30 pipeline replacement projects. National Grid is exploiting the fact that our city officials do not have authority to stop them. So National Grid is irresponsibly squandering public funds on low priority pipe replacements instead of prioritizing our safety by fixing the most dangerous and wasteful leaks and investing in clean energy solutions. 

AFWOG supports H.3137/SD.2603 because it would give our city officials the authority to demand more transparency and accountability from utility companies. It would overcome the barriers to data sharing, communication, and coordination that we need for community safety and emissions reduction. 

The 2019 Assessment Of Gas System Safety In Massachusetts, Rolling the Dice, by the Gas Leaks Allies, explained how insufficient coordination and communication between utilities and municipalities create safety risks. Indeed, our safety depends on data collection and sharing information on both infrastructure conditions and incidents. And, among the many benefits would be the ability to coordinate street work, avoiding the problem of paving over leaks and gas shutoff valves that impede a timely response in a gas emergency.  

Especially since the 2018 tragedy in the Merrimack Valley, we are keenly aware of the high risks/high consequences of living with a highly explosive gas. Everywhere we go in Newton, we smell the inherent danger of approximately 700 hundred leaks including over 80 unrepaired high volume leaks. Several leaks per week require emergency repair because a Grade 1 leak is an explosive level of methane, a high probability/high consequence condition that is an imminent hazard to people and property. 

Memories of the explosions and fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover are particularly acute and painful when Newton has incidents such as the April 6, 2023 manhole cover explosion in the vicinity of a newly paved over, unrepaired high-volume gas leak -- a leak that was first reported in May 2013 and reclassified as a high-volume leak in July 2021. Newton’s oldest unrepaired leak has leaked continuously since October 22, 1990.

We have no peace of mind knowing that Newton has far too many ‘near misses’ and many ‘good catches’ that rely on citizen reports such as the Grade 1 hazardous gas leak Nathan Phillps discovered on Homer Street between City Hall and Eversource substation.  

In fact, Newton’s leaky pipelines leave us too vulnerable to many threats to pipeline integrity such as co-located electrical infrastructure, extreme weather such as downpours, flooding, freezing and thawing cycles, and soil erosion and other corrosive conditions. There is also damage from construction activity such as the recent May 1 high pressure pipe break at the demolition site of the old Chestnut Hill theater.

The Climate Crisis is a health emergency, an economic emergency and a human rights emergency for our families, our communities and millions of people everywhere.

H.3137/SD.2603 would remove the roadblocks to our climate roadmap for achieving Newton’s Climate Action Plan goals and the Commonwealth’s Climate Goals.  

Our gas infrastructure is failing and responsible action is long overdue. H.3137/SD.2603 would help us shift the conversation from ‘repair vs replacement’ to ‘strategic repair and retirement’, from risk to safety, from squandered funds on stranded assets to avoided costs and savings for ratepayers and communities. We could be building utility-scale non-emitting, renewable thermal energy for year round comfort and cooking instead of watching the extensive build out of obsolete infrastructure that will burden us with decades-long debts, especially for those left to rely on fossil fuels. 

It is in the best interest of our families and neighbors to reduce risks of explosion and fire, to reduce sources of indoor and outdoor air pollution from gas, to reduce GHG emissions, and to stop making ratepayers and taxpayers pay for the pollution.  

Please vote H.3137/SD.2603 favorably out of Committee. Thank you.

Marcia Cooper, President of Green Newton

Monday, June 05, 2023 (Link to PDF)

Dear Chair Barrett and members of the MA Senate TUE Committee,

I am writing on behalf of the nonprofit environmental group Green Newton, to urge your support for H.3137/SD.2603 An Act relative to intervenors and utility work, known as the Empowering Municipal Voices bill. In Newton, there are on average three grade-one leaks per week! That’s in addition to hundreds of other dangerous gas leaks in our community!

Here’s how this bill removes obstacles to resolving our gas leak safety issues:

1. Municipalities must make decisions about roadwork, but can’t get basic information about the condition of the gas system. This bill gives municipalities the authority to require basic information from gas companies regarding:

• the condition of the gas infrastructure,

• the leaks on the system,

• why pipes are being replaced rather than repaired and the comparative costs,

• why significant leaks are not being repaired in a timely fashion,

• the purpose of gas work to be performed, and

• potentially hazardous conditions.

2. Municipalities have no voice in decisions that are made about the gas system under their streets by the Department of Public Utilities. This bill would empower municipal voices in DPU proceedings.

3. Gas leaks continue to undermine our municipal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to meet state mandated climate goals.

4. This bill grants municipalities the right to compensation for damage to trees and other property due to gas leaks or gas construction activity.

5. Municipalities want significant environmental impact leaks to be repaired to protect trees, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to prevent lost gas that customers pay for – but we have little or no information about the reliability of the repairs.

6. Currently, there is a lack of transparency about the risk of fire and explosions because of co-location of high voltage lines and high-volume leaks.

This bill would allow municipalities to act immediately by simply allowing them to require more information from the gas companies. I urge you to report the bill out favorably without delay.

Sincerely,  Marcia Cooper, President of Green Newton

Nathan G. Phillips, PhD. , Boston University,  Elected member of the ISO-New England Consumer Liaison Group Coordinating Committee 

To the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, June 6, 2023

Nathan G. Phillips, PhD. , Boston University, 

Elected member of the ISO-New England Consumer Liaison Group Coordinating Committee

Dear Legislators,

I am writing to urge your support for the Municipal Voices Bill, H.3137/SD.2603.  

Since September, 2022, I have worked in a concerted manner with my fellow Newton ratepayers to get answers from our gas company, National Grid, to why they are prioritizing the least dangerous and polluting pipelines for costly ratepayer-funded replacement, instead of repairing the most risky and wasteful pipelines, by using less costly, durable non-disruptive (trenchless) advanced leak repair techniques.  

Not only haven’t answers been forthcoming since last fall; what answers we have gotten in Newton City Council Public Facilities Committee meetings have been manifestly incorrect.  For example, we were told that National Grid does not use advanced leak repair (in this case, lining) for pipes smaller than 16 inches in diameter; but public records show that they did just that kind of repair, on a smaller diameter pipe, in 2021.  National Grid also knows that advanced leak repair can be far less costly, safe and durable, on leak prone pipes as small as 4 inches in diameter, which cover an enormous percentage of the Commonwealth’s leak prone gas pipe inventory.

Municipal officials need to have the authority to push back against the stonewalling and misinformation by the gas company that prevents our communities from moving forward expeditiously on our transition to clean energy and the post-combustion economy.  H.3137/SD.2603, the Empowering Municipal Voices Bill, will provide that essential agency which cities and towns deserve. Our municipal officials and public works staff must make decisions every day on connected issues like street paving, water works, and other coordinated infrastructure activities.  This bill will allow our municipalities to better manage their part of our co-located infrastructure and accelerate our planning and action to get off gas and on to a clean, sustainable and reliable heating sector.

Thank you.

Leslie Zebrowitz, 350 MASS 

Municipalities Must Not Be Paralyzed by the Gas Companies

Leslie Zebrowitz, 350 MASS

I live on Pine Crest Road in Newton, two blocks from Walnut St. and Lakewood Rd, where an explosion in a manhole on April 6th shot up smoke and flames and shut down the electricity for 6500 customers, many for as long as five hours.  Although the gas company denied that a gas leak was involved, Nathan Phillips, a Newton citizen and environmental scientist, found a leak not far from the explosion site that could have migrated there. I also live two blocks from Lake Avenue, where National Grid ruined my daily walks for several weeks as they dug up a gas pipeline that had no leaks, and replaced it with a new pipeline that will accept a mixture of hydrogen and methane, their “plan” for addressing fossil-fueled climate change. 

These two events are illustrative of the gas infrastructure in Newton. There are hundreds of unrepaired gas leaks as well as a lack of transparency about the risk of fire and explosions because of co-location of high voltage lines and high-volume leaks. These leaks put citizens health and safety as well as the climate at risk.  Indeed, they undermine our municipal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to meet state mandated climate goals.  What is more, there are miles of new pipelines being installed at rate payers’ expense that must become stranded assets in order to meet state climate goals.

Municipalities are currently uninformed about the big picture plans of the gas companies and they have no power to get information let alone to influence decisions about the pipeline work.  All they can do is to approve a small subset of the work that requires a grant of location, and lawyers warn that they have no legal authority to deny approval.  I’ve sat in on several Newton Public Facilities Committee meetings where City counselors and citizens were frustrated by the inability to get straight answers to their questions from gas company representatives. H.3137/ SD.2603 “An Act Relative to Intervenors and Utility Work” will immediately address these problems by empowering municipalities and other intervenors, including rate payer groups.

1. It gives municipalities the authority to require basic information from gas companies including:

a.    the condition of the gas infrastructure,

b.    the leaks on the system, including probable causes and repair timeframe.

c.    why significant leaks are not being repaired in a timely fashion,

d.    why pipes are being replaced rather than repaired, whether replacement will increase pipeline capacity, and the comparative costs and timeframes.

e.    the purpose of gas work to be performed and any leaks in those sections,

f.     anticipated risks or hazards from repair or replacement,

g.    the reliability of repairs that have been made.

2. It also gives municipalities the right to hold gas companies financially accountable for damage to trees and other property due to gas leaks or gas construction activity.

3. It gives municipalities and other intervenors voices in DPU proceedings where decisions are made about the gas system under their streets.

These provisions will empower municipalities and citizens to reduce risks of explosions and fires; reduce methane emissions; and protect ratepayers from charges for leaking gas and unnecessary new pipelines.

I hope that my comments will persuade the Joint TUE Committee to report H.3137/ SD.2603 out favorably so that the efforts of Massachusetts municipalities and citizens to ensure a safe transition off of gas are no longer paralyzed by the gas companies.

Cory Alperstein, Newton Citizens Commission on Energy, a board member of Green Newton, a member of Gas Transition Allies (formerly Gas Leaks Allies) 

Cory Alperstein/19 Hibbard Road, Newton MA/ 609-937-4784/cory.alperstein@gmail.com

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.

I am a member of Newton Citizens Commission on Energy, a board member of Green Newton, a member of Gas Transition Allies (formerly Gas Leaks Allies) and, most importantly right now, a member of the new multi-town coalition called AFWOG - A Future WithOut Gas. This coalition is determined to empower municipalities so that we can address existing gas leaks, and plan effectively for responsible retirement of the gas infrastructure in our cities and towns.  Despite persistent efforts on the part of elected officials over years, local communities have been blocked from accessing important data, and have had no say in whether or how gas leaks will be addressed. Elected officials, legal depts and administrative staff have been frustrated by the solid wall maintained by gas companies using obfuscation, dissembling and evasion for pro forma approval of Grants of Location. We are looking to carve a door into that wall to provide transparency, and to improve coordination between local government, gas companies, and the DPU, to triage and transition NOW off of combusting methane fuels. 

H.3137  focuses on reasonable ways to compel gas companies to work with municipalities to accomplish the goal of safety now and climate mitigation in the near term.

Section 2 requires gas companies to respond to requests from municipal officials and residents about gas pipeline characteristics, risks and hazardous conditions. Thus, towns will be able to act strategically to prioritize fixing the most dangerous and wasteful leaks and accelerate investments in clean energy, electrification, conservation and efficiencies.

H.3137 will further require the gas companies to compensate municipalities or property owners for damage to trees and other property from gas leaks or construction activity.

We know our mission of gas infrastructure retirement is not a priority for the gas utilities. 

Quite the opposite. Until GSEP is reformed, gas companies will continue to be motivated by 10% profit on all new pipe installations. In addition, they have proposed a five-year plan to the DPU which would mean, eventually, an investment of close to $40 billion to extend the life of the gas infrastructure indefinitely. This year alone, $800 million in GSEP funding will be spent on pipe replacement. While retirement by 2050 is referenced in greenwashed statements and public media communications, National Grid New England and the other MA gas companies have proposed the introduction of dangerous, costly ”green”  hydrogen into our gas distribution system as part of their most recent 5-year plan. Clearly the plan is not to retire the gas infrastructure as soon as possible, but rather to ensure its future. This should alarm all legislators working to end our reliance on fossil fuels, but it is also a ratepayer nightmare as consumers will be bearing the cost in health and climate damage as well as stranded assets.

We all know about the upcoming global deadlines for carbon emissions reductions. The carbon clock is tracking 6 years and 45 days until our carbon budget is expended. But what many don’t know is methane, at 25% of GHG emissions, is most detrimental to our GHG emission reduction goals over the next 3-5 years! 

Allowing leaks to continue to spread over multiple decades, as has been the case throughout MA, and adding new ones annually at almost the same rate as they are being repaired, is both excessively dangerous to inhabitants living near leaks and breathing in pollutants, and is also especially disastrous to the climate. 

Addressing existing gas leaks with effective repairs to pipes now can change the story. We can line corroded leaking pipes using new technology as our FIRST strategy. It is more cost effective and less disruptive of streets, and now can even be paid for out of GSEP. NGrid’s own studies prove this technology is effective, so why are they refusing to even engage in a practical discussion about using this method over pipe replacement? 

If compelled to do so, through the passage of H3137, NGrid and municipal governments could be moving fast now to strategically select and repair leaks in this way. They could be helping municipalities prepare city-wide plans for zonal electrification, so we can shut down sections of gas infrastructure instead of replacing leak prone pipes with miles of new pipe.

In response to the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions, back in 2019 GLA produced an important, thoroughly researched report, which I highly recommend you read. Rolling the Dice executive summary concluded:

• Triage: Reduce short-term risks to safety, health, and property by enhancing statewide gas leak classification standards and prioritizing the largest and most hazardous leaks for repair, not pipe replacement.

• Transition: Eliminate long-term risks intrinsic to reliance on a combustible gas by deploying a managed, just transition to cleaner, safer, and more cost-effective heating and cooking solutions.

And it remarked further that: This economic analysis showed that large investment in the current system will result in stranded assets and the near-certain demise of the current gas distribution companies. p.5.

Since 2019 the Commonwealth has made good progress on state-wide climate laws thanks to the proactive partnership of the House and the Senate, working together to untangle complex issues, but addressing the dangers of gas leaks as part of a mission of retiring the gas infrastructure has eluded legislative focus. Municipalities are left doing our own measuring, testing and reporting. Our municipality has no power to access information and change direction and National Grid knows it. 

So who will ensure right now that plans are made to retire the gas system? 

Who will focus on strategic repair and shutting down branches of the pipes?

Who will transition clusters of existing buildings through zonal electrification, accelerating our ability to get off of all fossil fuels?

Municipal governments are at the center of this urgent climate action, and as long as their hands are tied we will not be able to move forward.  

Please fast track H3137 and give us agency over our future by enabling us to act now.

As citizens we are doing our best. Just a few weeks ago, one Newton citizen scientist independently measuring leaks on Walnut Street after an explosion that was all-but-ignored by National Grid, personally found a Grade 1 emergency leak, and further along the street, right near the library and City Hall, he found another Grade 1 leak. Both leaks were adjacent to high voltage electric lines - a recipe for disaster that was narrowly averted.  It was a fortunate catch, but instead of lauding this citizen engagement, NGrid played down the problem and DPU failed to investigate the explosions. In fact, NGrid was well aware of leaks on that stretch of Walnut Street years prior, but decided a year ago that Newton’s Dept of Public Works should go ahead and repave the entire street without NGrid repairing those leaks. This was also the case with repaving on Washington Street, and who knows where else leaks have been ignored throughout the 13 villages of Newton as streets are repaved and then torn up again repeatedly to address the emergency Grade 1 leaks…when they are discovered.

Gas leaks pose a clear and present danger. We need better information for mapping, leak risk assessments, communication and coordination for our mission of ensuring the safety of residents and our transition to succeed. We need to empower municipalities to bring forward  A FUTURE WITHOUT GAS! AFWOG.

We know that frogs dropped in boiling water will jump out, but in tepid water will remain unaware of a slowly rising temperature as the water is brought to a boil. In the carefully plotted delay of transition from combusting fuels, the gas companies continue to treat us at the local level as unwitting frogs, and thus profit from continued ratepayer investment in the gas pipe infrastructure, to our detriment.

H3137/SD2603 comes out of an immediate and urgent need for remedy so at the local level we can stop the slow boil before we are all dead in the water. 

Please fast track this legislation. Vote H.3137/SD.2603 favorably out of Committee as soon as possible. 

Thank you.

Cory Alperstein

Multi-Town Gas Leaks Initiative - Three Stories/Video

Newton Gas Leaks Map

Questions from Alison Leary, Chair of the Public Facilities Committee of the Newton City Council-asked and not answered.

Also see: Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, City of Newton...