March 05, 2020

Warren and Massachusetts Delegation Members Call For Money From Columbia Gas Fine to Stay in Merrimack Valley

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Representatives Lori Trahan (MA-03), 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) today 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 on February 26, 2020, to violating minimum safety standards of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. 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.

“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.” 

“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.