Gas Pipeline Fight

Signs in opposition to the proposed gas pipeline compressor project along Cross Street in Rehoboth.

If you thought that there was nothing that Steve Howitt, Betty Poirier and Paul Heroux could agree on, then you don't know about the proposed Rehoboth gas pipeline compressor station.

Compressor stations pressurize natural gas so that it can flow through pipelines on its way to local utilities.

The one being proposed for Rehoboth would be powered by a 10,320-horsepower engine that will run 24 hours a day.

The station would be built by Houston-based Spectra Energy on about 120 acres in the northwest corner of Rehoboth, just a couple of hundred yards south of Poncin-Hewitt Fields off Oak Hill Avenue in Attleboro and near the Seekonk town line just to the west.

The project is part of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline expansion through the region for Algonquin Gas Transmission Co.

The siting of the proposed facility has galvanized opposition in the three affected communities. Likely neighbors of the facility object to the potential for noise, pollution and the possibility - however remote - of an explosion on the site they fear could have catastrophic consequences far and wide.

So far, Howitt and Poirier, both Republicans, and Democrat Heroux - who represent the area on Beacon Hill - have all filed or cosponsored legislation that would restrict or regulate the station, or at least try to keep it away from a populated area or school zone.

In doing so, they are responding to the concerns of their constituents. But they, and those voters, should also be aware that the ultimate decision on the facility likely won't be made at the local - or even the state - level.

Most of the bills filed by the local legislators are aimed at the state siting board of the Department of Public Utilities and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

However, that state agency points out the siting board does not make the decision to approve or disapprove projects such as the one at issue because they involve interstate commerce - and that's the province of the federal government.

And with an administration in Washington that's sounding more friendly to the energy industry by the day, it's possible that complaints from blue-state Massachusetts won't be falling on sympathetic ears.

Nevertheless, we note that U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who represents the area in Congress, has taken note of the issue and posed some sharp questions to Spectra about its plans.

Kennedy and our local lawmakers should keep making sure that area voices are not drowned out on this issue.

Because a little pressure is not a bad thing.

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