By Lauren Bennett
Special to the Gazette
Gas provider National Grid came under fire at the City Council’s Committee on Environment, Sustainability, and Parks hearing on Boston’s gas infrastructure on Oct. 30. According to Councilor Matt O’Malley, the company declined an invitation to testify at the hearing. O’Malley read a letter from National Grid into the public record,
“It’s disappointing, however, not surprising,” O’Malley said of National Grid’s no-show. The company’s five-month lockout of over 1,200 union gas workers has left many without healthcare and caused many to feel that the safety of the public is at risk without these skilled workers.
In 2016, members of the City Council and activists, many from Jamaica Plain, came together and created a gas leak ordinance, which was signed into law by Mayor Walsh. “National Grid took us to court,” O’Malley said,” and it’s that attitude that I find extraordinarily troubling. It’s the attitude that National Grid’s own workers have been dealing with for the last  weeks.”
He added that twice as many gas leaks are slipping through the cracks over the past three months, and “the gas leaks in our neighborhood are a disaster for the health of the climate and the health and safety of people.”
O’Malley said that Boston Gas reported that 42 percent of its infrastructure is leak prone and needs to be replaced within the next 17 years.
Councilor Ed Flynn said that the number one priority is public safety, and after the 60 fires and three explosions that killed an 18-year-old in the incident in Merrimack Valley, something needs to be done.
“The discussion today is not meant to cause panic,” he stressed, but “we take public safety very seriously in our city.”
Flynn asked Chief of Streets Chris Osgood if Boston is at risk due to the lockout, and Osgood responded that they will do “everything we can to support the [Department of Public Utilities] and ensuring the high public safety of our residents.” Osgood said that DPU is the body that is responsible for overseeing the regulation of the gas infrastructure. DPU also declined the invitation to appear at the hearing.
Two union gas workers testified at the hearing, including John Buonopane, President of USW Local 12012. Buonopane called National Grid’s absence at the hearing “beyond disrespectful” and a “complete demonstration of their arrogance.” He said that because National Grid is based in the United Kingdom, they are “indifferent about what happens in Massachusetts.”
Buonopane said that the union workers receive on-the-job training out in the field and “know the history” of Boston’s gas infrastructure, something that National Grid’s replacement workers do not have.
“The state seems to have lost control over this public utility,” he said. “Since the lockout has started, we have submitted hundreds of safety violations to the DPU.”
“These problems persist while National Grid pretends the company is operating normally,” Buonopane added. He said that their members had their healthcare terminated within the first week of the lockout. Now in its fifth month, there is “no end in sight,” he said.
He said that National Grid makes over four billion dollars in profit last year, but the union workers’ employment insurance runs out in January.
Joe Kirylo, President of USW Local 12003, said “the DPU is a joke, that’s what they are. They have a lot of problems.” He said he and his fellow members went to the DPU and demanded a meeting to talk to them about the safety problem in the communities.
He said that they hadn’t heard from them in weeks, but three hours and 18 minutes after the Merrimack Valley incident, they agreed and said they would meet with them.
“The DPU really needs to help people and be separate from the gas companies,” Kirylo said. “They need to be investigated, overhauled, and they definitely need more people.”
He said that all of the grade one gas leaks were found by the union and not by National Grid, and added that he is not impressed with the training that National Grid is providing its workers.
Kirylo thanked the City Councilors for holding this hearing—“you’re the first in the Commonwealth to step forward.”
“We are not here over a contract,” he said. “We are here over public safety and the endangerment of the citizens of Boston by National Grid.”
O’Malley reiterated that the hearing was not meant to spark panic in citizens, “but we have to face facts.”