LEWISTON, Maine — U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said he agrees with newly re-elected Gov. Paul LePage that elected officials from New England states should work together to expand natural gas pipeline capacity to the region.
During a meeting with the Sun Journal editorial board on Tuesday, King said LePage has been right to advocate for expanding the inflow of natural gas from Pennsylvania and New York into New England and especially to Maine, where the growing cost of energy continues to drag on the state’s economy.
“Here’s where the governor and I are in total agreement,” King said. “We need to get more natural gas access, and it’s a pipeline issue, it’s not a gas issue.”
King said New England enjoys proximity to the Marcellus shale, a major source of natural gas, but the region’s inability to access the resource is crippling the state’s ability to produce low-priced energy.
“It’s just killing us,” King said. “And it’s so frustrating because we are sitting next to one of the greatest natural gas deposits in the world and we can’t get it in, just because of pipeline capacity.”
King said he was working on convincing U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both Democrats from Massachusetts, that a pipeline expansion in their state is critical.
After failing to win support from the Massachusetts Legislature, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, put the brakes on advocacy for the pipeline expansion, despite a tentative agreement among all six New England governors that would have helped fund the infrastructure expansion needed.
LePage wrote to Patrick, urging him to keep pushing for new pipeline infrastructure. Maine’s Republican governor also chided his Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign for opposing a bill that would have allowed for an expedited permit application process that was largely expected to help speed up environmental permitting for natural gas pipeline expansion in New England.
Michaud said he opposed the measure over concern for the rights of landowners who could lose property in eminent domain proceedings.
Patrick did not run for re-election, and Massachusetts voters in November elected Republican Charlie Baker.
King predicted Baker would be more willing to entertain the pipeline expansion. He also agreed with LePage, who has said he believes the pipeline infrastructure could be expanded quickly — within three years — if the states and the federal government collaborated to put a regulatory framework in place that would allow the expansion.
“There is a proposal to upgrade one of the existing pipelines in place, so you are not talking about new rights-of-way or major environmental permits,” King said. “It’s a change in the pressure and increasing the capacity of the pipe, not the slower process.”
King said when he was governor, it took Maine only three years to add a pipeline for natural gas from maritime Canada, and the expansion through Massachusetts in question wasn’t as extensive an undertaking.
“It’s something that’s got to be done,” King said. “Because we’ve become so dependent on natural gas, it’s now 55 percent or 60 percent of our electricity.”
Patrick Woodcock, director of LePage’s Energy Office, said in an email to the Sun Journal on Tuesday that while New England’s problem illustrates a “fundamental breakdown within the regulatory framework of our natural gas and electric markets,” the region’s “misalignment … and the massive economic consequences in our spiking electricity prices, and our oil backup reliability program to keep the lights on, it is not completely unique to New England.”
Woodcock suggested other regions of the U.S. would soon be in similar situations if Washington did not act quickly.
“Congress needs to wake up to the severity of the challenge, which will spread to other regions as more generation shifts to natural gas,” according to Woodcock.
“The permitting process must be expedited so we do not hit delays when these natural gas projects can be the difference in whether businesses stay viable in Maine,” he added.
King also spoke about his opposition to an expansion of an oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, through the upper Midwest of the U.S. The 900-mile extension of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has become the poster child for environmentalists opposed to Canada’s extraction of oil sands petroleum.
King acknowledged that the Canadians would still likely export the crude, which is considered some of the most environmentally damaging fossil fuel to extract and process, whether the Keystone expansion went through or not.
He also said he was bracing for a push from federal lawmakers in natural gas-producing states that would allow for more natural gas to be exported from the U.S.
“My concern is that’s basically exporting an advantage,” King said. “It’s one of the few advantages that we have vis-a-vis China, for example. Natural gas there is $17 a BTU, and it’s $5 in the U.S.”