National Grid Suing City, Rejecting O’Malley’s Ordinance to Fix Gas Leaks

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A city law that would reduce gas leaks, improve safety, help the environment and lessen the cost of gas has not been implemented due to gas company National Grid's lawsuit opposing its implementation.

The law, which was to be implemented in July 2017, created a new mechanism for the city to deal with gas leaks to improve the management of Boston's infrastructure by coordinating maintenance, repair, upgrades, replacement with gas companies. Gas companies, of which National Grid is dominant in Boston, would be notified when a street is open by another utility company, cable company and others.  The ordinance also gives the city the authority to recoup costs from utility companies for the destruction of trees and shrubbery, which often happens from gas leaks.

District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley authored the law, which was passed by the Boston City Council and signed into law by Mayor Marty Walsh in December 2016. Upon implementation the law would provide real-time info on leaks and GPS mapping techniques to the city.

"Unfortunately, utilities have filed suit to prevent the implementation of our gas leaks ordinance. National Grid has filed suit," said O'Malley to Jamaica Plain News. "It is incredibly disappointing because it is something that was worked on and got to the heart of fixing the 4,000 to 5,000 gas leaks in the city. Instead of working to address these public health and safety issues the utility company has chosen to prevent its implementation by filing suit."

But National Grid is contesting the law saying it breaks from how they normally fix gas leaks, goes against union contracts and may even increase consumer costs. Utility companies, including National Grid, were included in the process of developing the law, said O'Malley.

“National Grid is committed to addressing gas system improvements in a consistent way for all 116 cities and towns we serve in Massachusetts, while adhering to state and federal rules," said Bob Kievra, Strategic Communications for National Grid, to Jamaica Plain News. "We have taken this action because this ordinance conflicts with the comprehensive state laws and regulations that govern leak detection, leak repair, and pipe replacements, threatens our ability to obtain necessary repair permits, directs us to assign work that conflicts with negotiated union contracts, and could require the company to use tools and services that result in higher costs for Boston customers without improving environmental safety."

National Grid is also working on a pilot program to identify and eliminate "most environmentally significant leaks first," added Kievra.

Disputing National Grid's claims, O'Malley said municipalities across the commonwealth create and follow different laws regarding the management of streets.

"The purpose of the ordinance was to provide transparency and be mindful of the fact there are privacy issues, which we would respect. It’s to setup a timeline of reclassification of gas leaks and allow for the city to recoup costs on the myriad of trees destroyed by these gas leaks," said O'Malley. "These are common sense ideas that are not only going to protect the public. My desire to fix gas leaks has never been stronger. We’re going to continue to fight every step of the way."

The city spokesperson said they would not comment on the lawsuit as it's ongoing legislation.