Press Releases

Trahan, Markey, Moulton, Warren, Other Delegation Members Call For Money From Columbia Gas Fine to Stay in Merrimack Valley

WASHINGTON, DC – TODAY, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03); Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); and Representatives Seth Moulton (MA-06), Joseph Kennedy, III (MA-04), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Richard Neal (MA-01), and James McGovern (MA-02) urged US Attorney General William Barr to use his authority to direct any criminal penalties originating from the recently announced plea agreement back to the affected communities in the Merrimack Valley. Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover continue to recover from a series of devastating gas explosions and fires that killed one, injured several more, and destroyed homes and businesses in September 2018.

Columbia Gas, the company whose negligence caused the disaster, pleaded guilty to violating minimum safety standards of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act on February 26, 2020. As part of this guilty plea, the company agreed to pay a criminal fine of $53,030,116 to the U.S. government – the largest fine of its kind. 

“We’ve heard loudly and clearly from leaders like Mayor Rivera that these funds must remain in the Merrimack Valley. He’s right. It stands to reason that the communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover – who bore the full brunt of Columbia Gas’s negligence – should benefit from the historic fine they’ve been ordered to pay. Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice have a crucial choice to make, and I hope that they will come down on the side of communities in the Merrimack Valley. My colleagues and I in the Delegation stand ready to assist in any capacity that may be necessary,” said Congresswoman Trahan. 

“The people of Merrimack Valley must be made whole, and funds from the settlement should remain in the community to ensure that happens. Families, businesses, and first responders are still recovering from the deadly natural gas disaster, and the Department of Justice should ensure that the settlement money stays in the community that was harmed,” said Senator Markey. 

"We deserve justice for the negligence that killed one of our neighbors and destroyed so many homes and businesses in the Merrimack Valley. The plea bargain that put Columbia Gas out of business is a good start. Now it's up to the Department of Justice to finish the job and bring the settlement funds back to Massachusetts,” Rep. Seth Moulton said.

“While we can’t undo the pain that these gas explosions have caused Merrimack Valley residents, we can make sure our families and communities—including our first responders—have the resources they need to get back on their feet,” said Senator Warren. “That starts by ensuring the funds from the Columbia Gas settlement remain in the communities impacted by the disaster.”

The full text of the Members’ letter can be found below, and an image of the signed letter can be found HERE:

March 5, 2020

The Honorable William Barr

U.S. Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Barr:

On September 13, 2018, natural gas explosions and fires devastated the communities of Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover, Massachusetts, killing 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, destroying homes and businesses, and leaving thousands of residents without heat for several months. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts caused this disaster when gas systems over-pressurized during a pipe replacement process, and the company pleaded guilty to violating minimum safety standards of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act on February 26, 2020. As part of this guilty plea, the company must pay a criminal fine of $53,030,116 to the U.S. government. We urge you to ensure that this money stays in the communities that were affected by this disaster through all means at your disposal, so that it may be used to help right the wrongs done to residents, business owners, and first responders.

We understand that through existing discretionary authority, you can direct penalties from this criminal settlement to support the first responders, counselors, and others who provided services to disaster victims in the Merrimack Valley. The statute states that the discretionary funds can fund the “salaries of personnel who provide services to victims of crime.” We ask that you use this authority to support the local first responders and others who bravely served and continue to serve the victims of the September 13 gas explosions, funding their salaries on an ongoing basis.  

We believe that the Department can and should use all available authorities to ensure that the funds from the Columbia Gas settlement remain in the Merrimack Valley to help the communities who were harmed by this disaster. The Merrimack Valley’s first responders and the people affected by the wrongdoing of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts deserve nothing less.

We stand ready to work with you on this matter should additional legislative authority be required to advance this proposal.