Legislation cleared the House Wednesday that outlines a process under which utilities would be held accountable for repairing thousands of underground natural gas leaks, with supporters saying the bill could save lives by preventing explosions. Proponents of the bill, long pushed by Marblehead Rep. Lori Ehrlich, said $40 million is wasted each year due to natural gas leaks. Prior to the bill's passage, Ehrlich ticked of a series of home explosions caused by natural gas leaks, citing growing risks. "These leaks can only get worse," she said. "They're not going to get better on their own." The leaks also rob neighborhoods of trees, which are deprived of oxygen, and Ehrlich said methane gas released to the environment has 27 times the impact on climate as carbon dioxide. In Brookline, she said, 5,000 town-owned trees have died in connection with natural gas leaks. Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee Co-chairman Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem) said Massachusetts has 5,700 miles of leak-prone gas distribution pipes, with Ehrlich describing that infrastructure as the second oldest in the nation. Keenan said the bill includes a process involving the Department of Public Utilities that allows utilities to capture through rates the funds needed for system repairs. Rep. George Peterson (R-Grafton) said the bill includes a key provision enabling gas companies to come up with a program to service new areas. In rapid succession and without debate or explanation prior to passing the bill, the House adopted amendments offered by Reps. Tackey Chan of Quincy, Rep. Paul Mark of Peru, Mark Cusack of Braintree and Brian Dempsey of Haverhill. The bill (H 3873) now heads to the Senate with a unanimous 147-0 vote of approval from the House. - M. Norton/SHNS


After 28 years on Beacon Hill, Worcester Rep. John Binienda will not seek re-election. Binienda chairs the Rules Committee under Speaker Robert DeLeo and previously chaired the House Revenue Committee. In a press release, Binienda said health reasons were the primary factor behind his decision not to seek a 15th term. "From the bottom of my heart, I just want to say thank you to every single resident of Leicester, Rochdale, Cherry Valley, Ward 7, and precincts 2, 3, and 4 of Ward 8 of the City of Worcester. You will always be in my thoughts and prayers," Binienda said in a statment. "I absolutely love serving in the legislature. The 17th Worcester District is in my blood; I know the people, the business owners, every sidewalk and street sign, and families going back generations. I am a proud son of Worcester and it has been an absolute privilege to represent the people of this district in Boston. I am forever-grateful for their support over the past 28 years." Binienda was elected to the House in 1986 after teaching in the Leicester public schools for 18 years. He cited among his accomplishments his work on a law mandating CPR and First Aid training for school bus drivers, securing funding for new schools in his district, and his continuing work on legislation to make housing authorities more accountable and efficient. - M. Norton/SHNS