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Federal energy regulators let Weymouth compressor permit stand

The Weymouth compressor station by the Fore River. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The Weymouth compressor station by the Fore River. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Federal energy regulators ruled Thursday not to revoke the permit of the controversial Weymouth natural gas compressor station.

Opponents, including a local citizens' group and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, had hoped the station would be shut down after it released gas into the area multiple times over the past year.

Those unplanned gas releases led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to vote to re-visit safety concerns around the Weymouth project.

But at its monthly meeting Thursday, FERC Chairman Richard Glick said the body had no legal authority to revoke the permit.

"Although I believe this is the correct conclusion as a legal matter, I don't take any joy in that conclusion," he said. "In my opinion, the commission should never have approved the proposal to locate the compressor station where it is."

Glick said he saw several deficiencies in the permitting process, including its siting in a dense urban neighborhood with higher levels of cancer and respiratory diseases. Natural gas compressor stations sometimes release gas and other volatile organic compounds into the air during “blowdowns.”

But those facts and the multiple recent blowdowns "do not provide a legal basis" to shut the station down, Glick said.

In my opinion, the commission should never have approved the proposal to locate the compressor station where it is.

FERC Chairman Richard Glick

He said he hopes the review process serves as a "a turning point for the commission as we work to better consider, address, and act on issues of environmental justice."

Other commissioners echoed Glick's sentiment. "There is no way to sugarcoat this outcome related to the environmental, health, and safety concerns voiced by many in this proceeding," said commissioner Allison Clements.

But two of the five commissioners criticized the extended review process, arguing it sets a bad precedent for future projects trying to get off the ground.

"It certainly does add to the growing uncertainty again about whether this commission is going to stand behind certificates," said commissioner Mark Christie.

Christie pushed back against FERC colleagues who characterized his concerns as "sky-is-falling" rhetoric. "I think it's reality," he said.

Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor station, welcomed the commission's ruling.

"We are pleased with FERC’s decision not to advance a re-examination of matters which have already been extensively reviewed as part of a multiyear public process for the Weymouth Compressor Station," a company spokesperson said in an email.

Opponents of the compressor station expressed disappointment in the ruling.

"It is an understatement to say that I am deeply disappointed that FERC did not move to rescind the authorization for the Weymouth Compressor Station," said Sen. Ed Markey in a statement.

Mernie Clifton demonstrates against the proposed gas compressor, as cars drive by on the Fore River Bridge in Weymouth. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Mernie Clifton demonstrates against the proposed gas compressor, as cars drive by on the Fore River Bridge in Weymouth. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Markey said he would continue to fight the project with legislation, through regulatory agencies, and "shoulder-to-shoulder with local leaders and grassroots activists to get the compressor station shut down once and for all."

Alice Arena, the executive director of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the group is assessing how to continue to oppose the project in court.

"We will take a couple days, lick our wounds, and then we will not despair, we will prepare for the next steps," she said.

Related:

Walter Wuthmann Twitter General Assignment Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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