On Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey wrote to federal regulators asking to halt construction of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth. The letter comes after a federal court vacated the compressor's air permit earlier this month.
"Given the invalidation of the facility's air quality permit, construction must stop immediately," the senators wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate gas transmission.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) granted the air quality permit after contentious hearings last May, during which MassDEP admitted that the project's provisional air permit was based on incomplete data. On June 3, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that MassDEP did not follow its own established procedures, and vacated the permit.
The court's decision revolves around whether MassDEP properly assessed the best type of turbine to run the compressor. Local advocates argued that an electric motor would produce far less air pollution than the proposed natural gas-fueled motor. Station owners argued that an electric motor would require additional infrastructure and be too expensive, and MassDEP agreed.
In the June 3 decision, the court said that MassDEP did not have enough evidence to make this decision, and asked the department to redo its analysis.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides — speaking at a webinar for the Environmental League of Massachusetts this week — said that MassDEP had begun conducting the additional analysis the court requested. But she added that "Massachusetts has a fairly limited role in terms of the permitting process for Weymouth."
The court decision rejected other claims that opponents of the compressor station made about cumulative air pollution, environmental justice and noise.
A spokesperson for Enbridge, the energy company building the compressor station, said in an email that the company is "working to address the air permitting matter as efficiently as possible."
He added: "We remain committed to completing construction and operating the Weymouth Compressor Station in accordance with all applicable regulations, and with public health and safety as our priority, to deliver much-needed natural gas to project customers, including local gas utilities in Maine and Atlantic Canada."
Enbridge began construction on the compressor station last December and expected to have it running later this year. Alice Arena, executive director of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) said that her group is hoping the court decision will at least delay the station's startup. "This is going to push back those timelines," said Arena. "Enbridge cannot operate that station without a permit."
Arena added that her group, and other opponents, still has several ongoing legal challenges against the station. They are also considering whether to file an injunction to force Enbridge to stop construction.