Pipeline company opposes proposed gas fee

Posted March 07, 2010, at 11:20 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A proposed new fee on natural gas shipped through pipelines in Maine has drawn strong opposition from Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline Co., the largest pipeline owner in the state.

The fee, no more than 2 cents per 5,000 cubic feet of gas carried by the pipeline, is estimated to raise $1.1 million a year and would be split roughly between DEP for partial funding of the hazardous materials response and cleanup units they have across the state, and MEMA for training and planning for handling a natural gas leak.

“This fee will address several needs,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Littell. “We have a hazardous waste cleanup program and we have training needs at MEMA [Maine Emergency Management Agency] that need more resources.”

“This will also support the training and planning for the handling of any LNG [liquefied natural gas] that may come in from any of the proposed ports Down East,” he added.

But Jim Mitchell, a lobbyist for Maritimes & Northeast, said the fee is excessive and should be limited to paying for planning and training for a possible line leak or accident in the future. He said there has never been a leak on the pipeline.

“The notion somehow that natural gas is a hazardous material and that there is a cleanup operation that is related to the release of natural gas is simply false,” he said at a Natural Resources Committee work session last week. “It ignores the molecular physics of methane, which is natural gas, which is lighter than air.”

Littell told lawmakers that natural gas is considered a hazardous material under both state and federal law and requires proper training and equipment to respond to a leak on the pipeline, should one occur.

Mitchell acknowledged that there is a legitimate need for training first responders to react properly to a natural gas leak and for planning how to handle accident scenarios that may occur.

“But that will not cost anything near what this fee would raise, “he said.

Sen. Douglas Smith, R-Dover-Foxcroft, questioned whether the agencies had sought general fund appropriations for the training and response teams, saying it clearly is a broad public safety issue.

MEMA Director Rob McAleer said none of the emergency response training for teams is funded by general fund dollars, but all are through fees or federal funds.

He estimated that training about 3,500 of the 15,000 first responders in the state costs $150,000 a year and is an ongoing expense because of staff turnover at local police and fire departments and changes in response plans.

McAleer said there are “tens of thousands of tons” of hazardous materials that transit the state every year. He said the training for first responders has to cover all scenarios.

“Obviously we have a serious need here to raise revenue so we are appropriately preparing for any response we may have to have in the future,” Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, co-chairman of the committee, said. He urged the agency and the company to work out some agreement to provide adequate funds.

Rep. Robert Duchene, D- Hudson, committee co-chairman, said while there has yet to be an accident on the pipeline, there needs to be planning and training to be ready for an accident.

“I know there has been exactly zero incidents so far,” he said, “but it reminds me of the story of the guy who falls out of the 20-story building and the first 19 floors go pretty well. You still want to be prepared.”

He also urged that the parties seek some agreement on a fee that would provide needed revenue and not be considered excessive.

Littell said the fee is not excessive, saying he heats his home with natural gas and estimates his bill will not go up more than 10 cents to cover the fee.

The committee has not yet scheduled another work session on the bill, but it could be acted on sometime this week.

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