New State Law Targets Gas Leaks

From Bostonglobe.com (July 7, 2014) : State law targets gas leaks: Plan sets timetable to repair lines; customers to see savings in long run; By Erin Ailworth | Globe Staff   July 07, 2014

A blueprint to speed repairs to thousands of leaks in natural gas pipelines across the state — reducing the threat of explosions and eventually saving consumers millions of dollars — will be unveiled Monday in Springfield.

The effort, authorized by recently passed legislation, creates a uniform system that classifies the severity of leaks and sets a timeline for their repair based on the risks. It also allows utilities to more quickly recover the costs of repairs from customers in the form of higher rates.

Those repairs could add an estimated $1 to $2 a month to the average gas bill, industry officials say. But over the longer term, Massachusetts customers could save tens of millions of dollars a year once all gas leaks are repaired. That’s because they will no longer have to pay for gas lost to those leaks.

Local utilities respond to tens of thousands of calls about potential gas leaks each year and reported more than 25,000 leaks to regulators at the end of September.

“As this flammable gas travels under our feet in often archaic pipes, I’m thrilled we are compelling gas companies to track their known leaks in a more transparent and uniform way,” said state Representative Lori Ehrlich, a Democrat from Marblehead who has long pushed to repair gas leaks. “The stakes are too high.”

Natural gas explosions, including one in April that injured 11 people in Dorchester, have called attention to the problem, but the issue has gathered momentum as researchers have quantified the amount of gas lost from thousands of small leaks in aging pipelines, and the costs — to customers and the environment.

A federal study commissioned by Senator Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, shows that in Massachusetts alone, natural gas consumers paid up to $1.5 billion from 2000 to 2011 for gas that never made it to them because of leaks. In addition, natural gas used to heat homes is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Several legislators filed gas leak bills this session. Industry and environmentalists worked with local political leaders to craft a compromise version passed by the Legislature and approved by Patrick on June 26. The law also requires utilities to fix all but the least hazardous of leaks whenever road construction projects expose a pipeline and to give priority to leaks within 50 feet of a school.

Earlier versions of the bill went further, requiring, for instance, that all leaks be repaired during road construction and giving priority to places of public assembly, such as churches and hospitals, not just schools.

Despite the changes, lawmakers said it achieves most of their goals. State Representative John D. Keenan, a Salem Democrat who also filed a gas leaks repair bill, called the new law a “great success.”

Utilities said the law not only allows them to repair leaks faster and recover costs in a timely manner but also has provisions that will allow them to bring natural gas service to more Massachusetts residents. Natural gas in recent years has been significantly cheaper than heating oil.

“This will allow us to accelerate the replacement of aging infrastructure,” said Thomas M. Kiley, chief executive of the Northeast Gas Association, a Needham-based industry group that represents gas utilities. “The bottom line is that there are going to be less leaks going forward.”

On Monday, Patrick will join state officials for an event publicizing the law in Springfield, where a natural gas explosion leveled a club in 2012 and injured more than a dozen. The State Fire Marshal said a worker from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts accidentally punctured a high pressure gas line at the foundation of the building while investigating a gas odor.

Markey is pushing two bills at the federal level. One, similar to the Massachusetts law, aims to revamp pipeline development and repair policies to address the biggest leaks first while making it easier for utilities to recover their costs. The other would create a program to help finance such projects with federal money and matching funds from states.

Markey said the new state law is a precursor to his national plan. “Massachusetts is yet again leading the way for the nation on energy and climate change,” he said.

Related:  Map: Gas leaks in eastern Mass.

Minimum Wage Passes; Earned Sick Time to Ballot

On June 18, 2014, the House passed a bill raising the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $11 an hour over 3 years  the Senate passed this bill and the Governor signed it on Thurs. June 26.

This is a BIG BIG BIG VICTORY for justice and dignity for hard working low wage earners. Over 600,000 low wage earners will get wage increases; These wage increases will total over $1 billion dollars; At $11 an hour, our state will have the highest state minimum wage law in the country, which will enable other states to consider raising their minimum wage law levels more than they otherwise would have. This only happened because we collected over 360,000 signatures!!! Thousands of volunteers from many hundreds of congregations, community organizations, and labor unions working together in Raise UP Massachusetts collected over 360,000 signatures to qualify “Raising the Minimum Wage” as a ballot question. House Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray publicly stated that they had to take this up because we had the signatures to place it on the ballot. JALSA gathered about 9,000 signatures to raise up our working sisters and brothers across Massachusetts. Almost 800 of these signatures came via the Tzedek Reflections collaboration with many local synagogues and organizations working on income inequality. $11 an hour represents a raise of over $6,000 every year for minimum wage workers. This is a huge win for low wage workers, but it is not yet a living wage. We will continue working on this important economic justice issue until all workers receive a sufficient hourly raise to maintain their families and to work with dignity.

Earned Sick Time is going to the ballot!! Earned sick time is an issue that JALSA has been fighting for for 6 years, and we look forward to working with you to get it passed this Fall! NOTE: On Monday June 30 we delivered signatures to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.

Thank you so much for all that you have done to bring us forward in this campaign for dignity and justice. Thanks, Sheila Decter, Barbara Gutman, Cindy Rowe, Erica Rothschild and all our members and friends who collected signatures.

Who is affected by the Minimum Wage legislation? 1 in 5 workers benefit in MA; 57% are women; 140,000 are parents; 236,000 children live in households where either the sole wage earner or at least one wage earner earns low wages that would be raised $1.1 billion when fully phased in which will help these low wage earners AND help our state economy retain and create jobs since most of these wage increases will be spent right back in our economy 85% of the affected low wage earners are 20+ and most of the younger workers are either using part of the wages to support their lower wage earning family and/or saving for college

The Domestic workers bill passed too! What does that mean? Domestic workers who work over 16 hours a week will get a contract from employers outlining their terms of employment: This will ensure that workers will get paid for the hours they work and that they are not taken advantage of. Domestic workers will be able to go to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for sexual harassment complaints and for other forms of discrimination; Domestic workers will be ensured one day off in a seven day period and one weekend off in a month; Domestic workers will have parental leave; Domestic workers will have meal and rest breaks; Domestic workers will be protected from illegal charges for food and lodging and eviction without notice; The Attorney General will enforce this bill. This is a huge victory!! Congrats to all the activists that fought for this!