Appellants get two extra days to analyze air quality data

BOSTON — As controversy swirls over new air quality testing data introduced into an appeal hearing at the last minute, the case's presiding officer has granted parties challenging a natural gas compressor station's permit additional to review the new information.

Jane Rothchild, who oversees appeal cases at the Department of Environmental Protection, told attorneys Tuesday that she will now give residents and communities who challenged the air quality permit issued until 5 p.m. Thursday — two days longer than the initial deadline — to respond to more than 700 pages of new data the DEP provided just before the final day of the appeal hearing last week.

Her decision came a day after a delegation of South Shore lawmakers wrote requesting an extension of the adjudicatory process to allow for parties to review the new information. Reps. James Murphy, Ronald Mariano, Tackey Chan, Joan Meschino and Bruce Ayers signed the letter, as did Sens. Patrick O'Connor, John Keenan and Walter Timilty.

"It was found that the report, which was dated May 13 yet introduced on May 16, reveals more than 9,000 insertions, deletions, and edits when compared to the original data that was previously issued on July 24, 2018," lawmakers wrote. "In order to understand the significance of these changes, more time is needed to review and analyze the differences between the two datasets on file."

The DEP also faces possible sanctions from Rothchild, who formally demanded to know why the department waited three days after receiving the new information regarding the site where energy giant Enbridge wants to build a compressor station to provide it to other parties in the case. In an order to show cause Monday, Rothchild requested all relevant emails exchanged on the topic last week and answers to key questions by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

However, it remains unclear if the eleventh-hour revelation of new data — which the state acknowledged is the remainder of what it had sought last year while weighing a permit for the facility — will affect the overall timeline of the appeal. A court order outlining the process calls for DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg to issue a final ruling by June 28.

Local officials, first responders and representatives from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will host a June 20 meeting in Weymouth to discuss the project with concerned members of the public.