It took a while for Vincent DeVito, like many of those who’ve been working in opposition to new pipelines, to understand what you might call the Keystone effect. DeVito, a former assistant secretary in George W. Bush’s Energy Department, recently started representing Boston-based conservation land trusts opposed to a $4 billion proposal to pipe natural gas across New England. DeVito might never mention Keystone by name in his fight against the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline—which after all is a much different animal, providing a cleaner fuel than the heavy oil Keystone would supply—but he doesn’t need to.
DeVito appreciates how much Keystone has changed the game—the way in which the bitter, years-long fight over the famed Canadian oil pipeline has inspired and spread new opposition by landowners and environmentalists across the country, opponents who once operated locally but are now connecting up nationally, pooling resources and inserting themselves into numerous different fights at once. The veteran attorney can easily list the parallels between his New England gas pipeline and Keystone: opponents of both object to the environmental consequences of the fuel’s extraction, and both big-money pipelines are stalled by suspicions that the fuel will ultimately be exported, failing to benefit the communities that would bear the burden of construction. “Both are generating sophisticated debate, I’d say, from a public that’s taking more time to learn about approval processes and how they can participate,” DeVito said. By contrast, back when he was a Massachusetts energy regulator in the late 1990s, “all we’d get is information from the developer,” who usually had the upper hand, he said.
All that has changed.