The Pursuit of Clean, Renewable Energy: The “North Atlantic” Right Way

Dec 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

Yesterday, the North Atlantic right whale was only an historical symbol of one consequence associated with the relentless and unsustainable pursuit of energy.  Today, it is also a new symbol of renewable energy done the right way.  The agreement CLF is announcing today reflects support for the pursuit of renewable energy and also demonstrates that real leadership to change how we pursue energy can come from industry itself.

The pursuit of cheap energy from the 17th century forward hasn’t exactly been what one would call sustainable. From the time the first right whale was killed for its oil to today’s efforts to take and refine oil from the Canadian tar sands, our industries have drawn down limited resources with little regard for the environmental consequences. In fact, the right whale stands as a particularly distressing symbol of our history of exploitation.

The North Atlantic right whale was so-named because it was considered by whalers to be the “right” whale to kill. It was slow, swam close to shore, and was easy to harvest – accommodatingly floating to the surface with a head full of oil after it has been killed. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the North Atlantic right whale, an animal that according to Herman Melville’s 1851 reflections in Moby Dick “would yield you some 500 gallons of oil or more” in just its lip and tongue, was hunted to the brink of extinction. The relentless pursuit of this limited resource in such an unsustainable way is the reason that today the North Atlantic right whale is considered critically endangered, with fewer than 500 animals remaining.

Despite the right whale’s lesson, our reliance on oil continues. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the United States consumed a total of 6.87 billion barrels (18.83 million barrels per day) in 2011. Our reliance on exhaustible, limited fossil-fuel resources is causing climate change and setting into motion a series of unavoidable consequences, but still we drill for oil – albeit no longer in the head of a whale.

So while today’s landmark North Atlantic right whale agreement is a collection of voluntary measures designed to provide further protections for the North Atlantic right whale, primarily by reducing or avoiding sound impacts from exploratory activities that developers use to determine where to build wind farms, it is also so much more than that.

The offshore wind developers party to this agreement – Deepwater Wind, NRG Bluewater, and Energy Management, Inc. (owner of Cape Wind) – are willing to go above and beyond because they recognized that more could be done to protect North Atlantic right whales in the pursuit of energy. These developers’ willingness, and indeed enthusiasm, for protecting the whales reflects a new way of thinking – a 180-degree turnaround from the way other companies viewed energy generation over the last century and a half.  Instead of treating the natural world as an adversary to be exploited and consumed, these companies recognize that we can accommodate natural systems (like the whales’ migratory patterns and feeding grounds), that we can avoid extracting limited resources, that we don’t have to burn fuels that exacerbate climate change, and that we can still produce the energy to fuel modern society. Now that’s the right way.

Vermont Yankee is in a Tight Box

Nov 30, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of strikkelist@flickr.com

Regulators issued another strong rebuke to the owners of Vermont Yankee. The Vermont Public Service Board strongly rejected Entergy’s requests to change prior orders. Entergy continues to operate in defiance of Vermont law. Patience with this sort of behavior is wearing thin.  Read the decision here.

Entergy asked to change orders so that it would have authority to operate past March 21, 2012. The Board strongly rejected that request. As the Board’s conclusion states:

For the reasons set out above, the Board denies Entergy VY’s motion to amend Condition 8 of the Sale Order, which prohibited operation of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station after March 21, 2012, without Board approval and conditions in the Dry Fuel Storage Order and CPG that limit the amount of spent nuclear fuel that Entergy VY may store at the Vernon site to amounts generated from operation up to March 21, 2012.

Entergy knew and agreed to the commitment not to operate after March 2012 and had ample time to challenge or seek amendment earlier. Entergy didn’t.

Instead, Entergy chose to defy the Board’s orders, walk away from its commitments, thumb its nose at Vermont and just continue to operate. It then asked the Board to change the prior orders, claiming hardship and that being held to its prior commitments was somehow unforeseeable.

The Board roundly rejected each of Entergy’s claims. Any hardship is Entergy’s own making based on its own tactical decisions, and does not justify changing the rules after the fact.

Entergy’s in a very tight box. It cannot prove to the Board that it is a trustworthy operator when at the same time it is operating in bold defiance of the same Board’s orders.

 

 

Getting Desperate: Northeast Utilities CEO Falsely Claims Wide Support for Northern Pass

Nov 15, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This week, the developer of the Northern Pass transmission project, Northeast Utilities (NU), sunk to a new low. In a presentation at a utility industry conference, NU CEO Tom May stated that:

  • “[T]his project has the support of every environmental group in New England basically.”

This is unequivocally untrue. In fact, CLF is not aware of a single New England environmental group that supports the Northern Pass project as proposed. You don’t have to take our word for it: literally dozens of New England’s environmental organizations – regional, state, and local – have registered significant concerns with, or outright opposition to, the proposed project in public comments to the U.S. Department of Energy. May’s statement is all the more puzzling given the energy that NU has devoted to attacking the efforts of groups like CLF (e.g., here and here), the Appalachian Mountain Club (e.g., here), and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (e.g., here).

  • The regional electric grid operator, ISO-NE, has been a “big proponent of this project.

This is also inaccurate. Northern Pass is an “elective” transmission project that is not intended to address any electric grid needs identified by ISO-NE. As a result, ISO-NE is obligated to consider the project objectively alongside competing elective projects (of which there are several), and Northern Pass is not specifically endorsed in any of ISO-NE’s planning documents, such as ISO-NE’s recently released 10-year Regional System Plan for the New England electric grid. Because it is an elective project that ISO-NE didn’t ask for and doesn’t plan to rely on, ISO-NE’s primary role in reviewing Northern Pass will be to assure that it won’t have an adverse impact on the reliability of the grid, not to advocate for the project.

  • New Hampshire’s new governor-elect, Maggie Hassan, is “supportive of the project.”

Governor-elect Hassan’s website contains this statement to the contrary:

Maggie opposes the first Northern Pass proposal.  As a state senator, Maggie worked to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit the use of eminent domain for private gain, and she opposes the use of eminent domain for this project.

Maggie believes that we must protect the scenic views of the North Country, which are vital to our tourism industry.  As Governor, she will ensure that, in accordance with the law, New Hampshire undertakes a rigorous review process of any proposal and provide significant opportunities for public voices to be heard.

Maggie hopes that the next proposal will address the concerns of the communities involved.  She believes that burying the lines would be a more appropriate approach, and also supports looking into home-grown energy sources, such as the new biomass plant under construction in Berlin.

Governor-elect Hassan has also expressed her support for Governor Lynch’s approach to the project: namely, that the directly affected communities must support the project before it moves forward. With almost all the communities on the record opposing the project (and no willingness on the part of Northern Pass’s developer to consider burial as an alternative to overhead lines), it’s impossible to characterize Governor-elect Hassan’s position as support for the project.

(May’s remarks on Northern Pass are at 21:00 – 25:30 in the webcast linked here.)

Since the Northern Pass project was announced more than two years ago, CLF has identified significant problems with the proposal, including the developer’s egregiously misleading marketing of the project’s environmental attributes and other supposed benefits. CLF has repeatedly emphasized, in the words of our President John Kassel, that “long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs.” Thus far, the Northern Pass project, as proposed, meets none of these criteria, and therefore is not a project CLF can support.

Beyond our specific concerns, we’ve been fighting for some basic principles that should not be controversial, such as transparency, fairness, and especially honesty. Again and again, NU has unfortunately refused to abide by these principles, repeating discredited claims about the project’s emissions reductions and outdated accounts of other benefits, marginalizing the many stakeholders raising legitimate questions about the project, and employing bullying tactics against project opponents (for the most recent example, see here).

As we explained more than two months ago, Northern Pass still has no clear path forward. In concocting a story of broad-based political and stakeholder support, NU is – deliberately or recklessly – misleading its investors with plainly false information: an unacceptable breach of NU’s legal obligations as a public company and of investors’ trust. It is incumbent upon NU to correct the record immediately and to jettison its aggressively deceptive approach to securing approval of the Northern Pass project. The public deserves far, far better.

Future of Vermont Yankee – Let your Voice be Heard

Nov 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

When:  Monday evening, November 19, 2012 beginning at 7 pm.

Where:  Vermont Interactive Television sites around Vermont – Find locations here.

What:  Should Vermont Yankee – a tired, old nuclear facility on the banks of the Connecticut River retire and its untrustworthy owners close shop?

How:  Speak up at a public hearing. This is YOUR chance to let YOUR voice be heard.

Help put an end to Vermont Yankee’s troubled history.

The Vermont Public Service Board will determine if Vermont Yankee should be allowed to operate for another twenty years. A disappointing court case decided last spring said issues of radiological health and safety can only be decided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but Vermont regulators will decide if continued operation of Vermont Yankee by its untrustworthy owners makes sense for Vermont’s economy, environment and power supply.

Need a refresher? Here is a list of newspaper headlines about problems at Vermont Yankee since the collapse of the cooling tower in 2007.

More information is available from the Public Service Board website.

Tips and issues to talk about:

  1. Environment – Heated water from the plant is harming fish and habitat in the Connecticut River. This has been getting worse and Entergy’s studies have been faulty.
  2. Economics – There is little value to Vermont from the continued operation of the plant. There is the equivalent of a junk car on the banks of the river. Money has not been added to the decommissioning fund and it is inadequate to close and clean up the site.
  3. Untrustworthy owners – Entergy is not a good partner for Vermont. Their executives provided false testimony to regulators  and continue to break promises, including a promise that they would close in March 2012.
  4. Energy Plan – Vermont is moving away from older and more polluting forms of energy towards clean renewable energy. Vermont Yankee is not part of a sustainable energy future for Vermont.
  5. No Need for Power — There is an excess of electric power available in New England now. The lights will stay on without Vermont Yankee.

Tell the Board what you think.

Written or email comments can also be provided.

 

Update: Support Grows for CLF’s Fight to Secure a Fair Review of Northern Pass

Oct 25, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Members of NH's Congressional delegation are demanding that DOE Secretary Steven Chu (pictured) explain DOE's process for selecting the current contractor team working on the Northern Pass envrionmental review.

Two weeks ago, CLF exposed and brought to the public’s attention internal government documents showing that the Department of Energy (DOE) has illegally allowed the developer of the Northern Pass transmission project, Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) to have significant and improper influence over the ongoing permitting process and environmental review of the project. After filing its concerns about the information with DOE, CLF issued a call to action, urging the public to join CLF in demanding that DOE replace the contractor team charged with preparing the crucial Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was handpicked by NPT, with a new, unbiased contractor or internal team with no conflict of interest.

We’re pleased to report that the responses – your responses – to the revelations and our call to action has been remarkable.

In the past two weeks, more than 300 members of the public (and counting) filed comments with DOE demanding replacement of the contractor team and a new commitment to a fair and open permitting process for Northern Pass. (You can take action yourself and file your own comment via this link.)

Yesterday, in a joint letter to DOE, a group of nine organizations representing New Hampshire’s conservation community and the grassroots opposition to Northern Pass, along with more than 60 individuals, expressed their deep concerns about the information exposed by CLF and called for a new EIS contractor with no conflict of interest. (Coverage on NHPR here.)

In the past week, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Congressman Charlie Bass have each sent letters to DOE Secretary Steven Chu demanding that the matter be reviewed and addressed immediately. (Union Leader coverage here.)

  • In her letter to Secretary Chu, Senator Jeanne Shaheen demands an “immediate, detailed response” from DOE to determine whether a conflict of interest exists, emphasizing that “in order for the public to have confidence in DOE and the outcome of any Presidential Permit application there can be no conflict of interest or appearance of conflict in the application process” and that “[a] loss of faith from stakeholders would be difficult, if not impossible, to restore. “
  • Senator Ayotte’s letter urges DOE to review CLF’s concerns and highlighted the need to “make certain that the outcome of this process is perceived as legitimate and that the process remains transparent.”
  • Congressman Bass is asking for a “detailed explanation of the DOE selection of the EIS contractor” in light of “the importance of this matter to the state of New Hampshire and the absolute necessity for a fair and transparent process for all stakeholders.”

It’s clear that the documents CLF disclosed provide only the part of the story of DOE’s mishandled process so far – we don’t know exactly what DOE did internally, in phone calls with NPT and others, or in closed-door in-person meetings. That’s why the members of the delegation are right that DOE owes them and the public a detailed explanation of what happened.

Since CLF’s detailed filing with DOE, we’ve actually learned more about the process from NPT than from DOE. In a letter sent to DOE last week, NPT admitted – rather than rebutted – the facts CLF has exposed. NPT admits that DOE directed it to conduct the contractor search, including the vetting of potential contractors for conflicts of interest .  NPT also admits that it – not DOE – drafted several key documents governing the environmental review and DOE’s arrangement with the contractor team. In effect, NPT admits its enormous, behind-the-scenes role and still can’t understand why anyone would have a problem with it. (We previously explained why NPT’s and DOE’s defensive responses to this effect were off the mark.)

NPT’s letter also publicly disclosed a crucial part of the story for the first time. According to a footnote in the letter, NPT was permitted to “rule out” the qualified environmental review teams at DOE’s own National Laboratories because their rates were higher than NPT wanted to pay. The fact that DOE deferred to NPT’s desire to keep down the costs of the federal environmental review of Northern Pass (even as it spends many multiples of market value to acquire properties in Coos County for the northernmost corridor for the project) is among the most troubling information we’ve yet obtained: if true, DOE did not even consider hiring its own experts to prepare the EIS. It’s hard to imagine clearer evidence that the contractor selection process violated the federal regulations requiring that that the choice be “solely” DOE’s or that the violation directly threatens the integrity and rigor of the environmental review.

Above all, the public’s responses to the revelations about NPT’s role in the DOE permitting process make crystal clear that New Hampshire deserves – and is insisting on – a truly fair, rigorous, and objective review of the Northern Pass project, not the deeply mishandled, applicant-driven process we’ve seen to date.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

Really Cool Event About “Doing the Math” and Taking on the Fossil Fuel Forces of Doom

Oct 23, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

There comes a time when you just have to say that enough is enough.

That is where we are in the world of climate advocacy.

As Bill McKibben laid out in his essay on Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math we can no longer ignore the deep and fundamental need for action to save our climate, our families, our communities and our environment from catastrophe – and that there are powerful, entrenched and well-financed forces who will do just about anything to thwart our efforts.

The primary tools that CLF employs in the fight for climate protection are law, science and economics.  We fight for a thriving New England in court and work with smart business people to build markets for renewable energy like wind farms and to foster energy efficiency, the clean resource all around us.  And we are fighting to ensure that the governments of the region live up to their pledges to create great places where there is more walking and less driving and more of the remaining cars pollute less. We know that this work is essential if we are going to win the war to save our climate.

Courtesy 350.org

But sometimes we need to do more. One thing we need to do, in addition to our calm and civil lawyerly work, is to get angry and push back in the right ways at the right times and in the right places.  This is the spirit behind the Cape Wind Now! campaign that CLF and its partners have launched to call out the fossil fuel powered interests fighting against renewable energy. It is also the driving force behind the Do The Math tour and campaign led by 350.0rg.

And now it is coming to a concert hall near you. This event is a unique blend of “multimedia lecture . . . organizing rally [and] live musical performance” that is not to be missed. CLF has helped to arrange for this important effort to land at the historic Orpheum Theater in Boston on November 15 – tickets are still available!

Before coming the Boston the tour stops in Portland Maine on November 13 and then off on a cross-country odyssey from New York to Los Angeles, to Seattle and then Colorado and many stops in between and on the way.

DOE and NPT Don’t Get It: the Public Deserves an Unbiased Review of Northern Pass

Oct 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) reacted in the media (here and here) to news stories reporting that the federal review of the Northern Pass project has been tainted by DOE’s abdication of critical responsibilities to the project developer and permit applicant, NPT. It is frustrating, but not unexpected given what the document trail revealed, that DOE and NPT don’t see any problems with the permitting process to date.

DOE says that it exercised independent judgment in selecting the contractor team and considered other contractors for the job (while it won’t say which ones or how many, apparently absent a FOIA request, which – if CLF’s last request is an indication – could take as long as a year).

While it is clear DOE signed off on the new team, DOE is ignoring that its actions were wrong because of the undisputedly pervasive role DOE allowed NPT to play –with NPT’s counsel personally recruiting, assembling, and coaching the team, helping the team make its proposal to DOE, making a side agreement (of which DOE apparently has no copy) with the team setting the budget and schedule for the process, and actively helping to draft key DOE documents governing the environmental review.

Giving NPT this role and opportunity for influence is at odds with the core purpose of the legal requirement that any third-party contractor be chosen solely by DOE without meaningful participation by the permit applicant: the selected contractor must have no conflict of interest in favor of the applicant – even a perceived conflict of interest. Like DOE itself, the contractor must be seen by the public as an impartial, independent arbiter of the data, the facts, and the analysis contained in the environmental impact statement of the project. Here, the public can have no confidence that this will be true precisely because NPT was so instrumental in choosing the contractor team. The documents make clear that the contractor team owes its job to NPT. How can the public have any confidence that the team will fulfill its obligations indepedently, with no special treatment or preferences for NPT?

DOE’s other comment – that it is routine for applicants to be involved in selecting contractors – is merely an admission that DOE always handles permitting processes in unacceptably close coordination with developers. “We always do it this way,” is no excuse for illegal and improper conduct.

Indeed, it is telling that DOE has no comment on evidence of actual bias on the part of a senior member of the contractor team who – even before being hired – stated the position (one favored by NPT) that the Champlain-Hudson transmission project is not an alternative to be considered as part of the Northern Pass alternatives review. This evidence means that there is not only a risk of bias with the current contractor team, but that bias already has crept into the process – and on a critically important aspect of the environmental review.

By just adding CLF’s filing (PDF) to the pile of public comments received on the project to date, DOE appears to be following a strategy of bureaucratic defensiveness and imperviousness to public feedback – a strategy that is reflected in one of the most troubling documents CLF obtained, an internal email revealing that one of DOE’s principal priorities is to avoid “setting the precedent of backing down under the weight of public criticism.” If DOE continues on this path, as we say in our filing, “it would be fair for the public to conclude that DOE is not interested in meaningful public involvement and is incapable of reaching a legitimate final decision on the permitting applications that the President and Congress have entrusted it with faithfully reviewing on the nation’s behalf.”

For its part, NPT’s response reflects the absurd allegation that CLF merely is trying to cause delay. To the contrary, our filing with DOE implores the agency to fix the process now, before the permitting process begins again in earnest. Given that there are still several months before NPT says it will restart the process by filing a new northernmost route for the project, DOE has ample opportunity to cure deficiencies.    To be clear, every day of delay that has occurred to date is NPT’s doing – DOE has allowed NPT to drag out the federal environmental review for two years so that it can assemble a new northernmost route, without a definitive end in sight.

NPT also says CLF is trying to “preemptively discredit” the process. Of course, it isn’t CLF’s filing but instead DOE’s and NPT’s own actions, documented in black and white in the 22 exhibits to our filing, that are preemptively discrediting the process.

You can help CLF tell DOE – in only a few clicks – that its actions are unacceptable and that New Hampshire deserves a truly fair review of Northern Pass. Please take action now.

To learn more about this issue, take a moment to review our posts from earlier this week here and here.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

Its Objectivity and Integrity Again in Question, the Federal Review of Northern Pass Comes to a New Crossroads

Oct 11, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

(photo credit: flickr/timtom.ch)

The new revelations of unfairness and bias in the federal environmental review of Northern Pass have struck a chord, garnering front-page coverage in the Union Leader and a story on New Hampshire Public Radio. You can join our fight for a fair review of Northern Pass. We have made it easy for you to take action and tell the United States Department of Energy (DOE) that New Hampshire deserves an unbiased process that follows the law – it will only take a couple of seconds. You can submit your comment to DOE here.

To understand what’s at stake in the wake of these developments, it’s important to take a look back at the history of where we’ve been and what we’ve been fighting for.

This week marks the second anniversary of the formal announcement of the Northern Pass project and Northern Pass Transmission LLC’s (NPT) application to DOE for a Presidential Permit. Shortly after the announcement, it became clear that DOE’s review of the project was off to a terrible start. DOE had selected a “third-party” contractor to prepare an environmental impact statement or “EIS” for the project – a crucial, comprehensive, and impartial study of the project’s environmental and socioeconomic impacts and its reasonable alternatives. But that contractor, Normandeau Associates, was the same firm that was on NPT’s payroll to advocate for the project’s approval during the state siting process, which will follow the federal process. This was a clear conflict of interest in violation of the regulations that govern federal environmental reviews.

After CLF and others objected to DOE’s hiring of Normandeau on the ground that the contractor had, NPT initially defended Normandeau’s dual role. Then, in an about-face, NPT terminated the arrangement, saying that:

[T]he strong expressions of concern by certain members of the public about the arrangement lead us to believe that continuing with this arrangement may cause the public to lack confidence in the objectivity and rigor of the ultimate environmental analysis of the project. That outcome obviously does not serve the interests of the project, any of the permitting agencies or the public.

It turns out, however, that our fight for fairness and integrity in the Northern Pass permitting process was only beginning. Over the last two years, CLF has advocated for a truly rigorous analysis of alternative technologies and strategies, a comprehensive review of the region’s energy needs, and a much more honest accounting of the current proposal’s impacts – on electric bills, the climate, our domestic renewable power industry, and natural resources in Canada – than the threadbare and misleading information NPT has provided to DOE and to the public. Along the way, CLF has encouraged members of the public to make themselves heard in the permitting process and sought improvements in that process.

After DOE announced it had selected a new, supposedly independent contractor team to prepare the EIS, CLF identified the potential for unfairness in DOE’s agreement with the contractor and encouraged DOE to fix the problems. We’ve been joined in this important fight by many, many other advocates, from the record crowds at DOE’s public meetings in March 2011, to passionate Granite-Staters on and off the project’s path, to our allies at other environmental organizations.

What we’ve now learned – that DOE has repeatedly abdicated its responsibility to control the process and that NPT has had improper influence over major decisions about the review – has deeply shaken our confidence in the process we’ve been fighting so hard to protect and improve. With NPT expected to announce a new northernmost route soon (now the end of 2012) and restart DOE’s review once again, we are at a new crossroads, just as we were at the process’s outset. Will the federal review of Northern Pass be the fair, objective, and open process that New Hampshire deserves? Or is the game rigged in the developer’s favor yet again?

Again, please join our fight. Take action now.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

Newly Disclosed Evidence of NPT Influence Taints Federal Review of Northern Pass

Oct 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

DOE Headquarters, Washington, DC (Energy Department photo, credit Quentin Kruger)

A year ago, CLF asked the Department of Energy (DOE) for documents regarding its environmental review of Northern Pass – the major power-line project proposed by Northern Pass Transmission LLC, or “NPT.” We fought for an open, rigorous, and impartial permitting process that would independently scrutinize all elements of the Northern Pass proposal. We wanted to be sure that’s what New Hampshire and the region would be getting from DOE and its new contractor team, which is charged with preparing the ever-crucial environmental impact statement or “EIS” – the document that analyzes the proposed project, all reasonable alternatives, and all related environmental and socio-economic impacts.

On the surface, we saw some blemishes, but it appeared that, despite the potential problems (which we noted in a submission to DOE last October), DOE’s new contractor team would be substantially more objective than the original contractor, which had an obvious conflict of interest due to its dual role (incredibly) working for both DOE to prepare the EIS and for NPT in seeking to obtain state-level approval for the project.

It took nearly a year, but DOE finally sent us a large set of documents – emails, letters, and document drafts. The documents provide the first real window we’ve had into DOE’s handling of the process so far.

What they show is profoundly troubling: abdication by DOE of important non-delegable responsibilities to the permit applicant, NPT; and significant and improper influence over the permitting process by the permit applicant, NPT:

  • NPT’s counsel – who was once DOE’s top lawyer and still appears to have extraordinary access and influence at DOE – handpicked the new EIS contractor team, with what appears to be minimal DOE involvement. Counsel for NPT acted as the new contractor team’s agent, recruiting the team, pulling together its submission of qualifications and a work plan proposal to DOE, and organizing a face-to-face meeting between DOE, NPT, and the team. It appears DOE conducted no real search of its own, in violation of governing regulations requiring that EIS contractors be chosen “solely” by DOE.
  • A senior member of the new contractor team has already demonstrated that she is biased in favor of a narrow, NPT-preferred alternatives analysis. In an email included in the documents obtained by CLF, one of the new contractors opined that the underground Champlain Hudson Power Express project connecting Canada and New York City will not be considered an alternative to Northern Pass in the EIS. This is precisely the position expressed just one month earlier by NPT in its objection to CLF’s and others’ request for a regional energy study, which was based in part on DOE’s need to evaluate Northern Pass and Champlain Hudson together. The email was, ironically, intended to show that email’s author lacks a conflict of interest in working as an EIS consultant on the Northern Pass project and as a DOE consultant on the Champlain Hudson project.
  • DOE allowed NPT to design the arrangement among DOE, NPT, and the contractor team, which was memorialized in a Memorandum of Understanding that, we’ve learned, DOE asked NPT to draft. It appears that DOE doesn’t even have a copy of the key agreement between NPT and the contractor team establishing the budget and schedule for the EIS.

Unfortunately, this pattern of NPT’s influence over the process is not unique to selecting and managing the project’s EIS contractors:

  • DOE apparently reviewed and okayed NPT’s deeply incomplete permit application before it was even filed.
  • DOE asked NPT’s counsel to write up the “purpose and need for agency action,” a crucial DOE determination that will help shape the scope of the EIS, including what alternatives to the current Northern Pass proposal should be studied. NPT’s draft was virtually identical to the version that then appeared in last year’s Federal Register notice announcing that DOE would prepare an EIS and kicking off the scoping process. In our scoping comments, CLF identified DOE’s “purpose and need” statement as illegally narrow.
  • NPT and DOE have had private discussions, outside the public eye, about pending requests by stakeholders to improve DOE’s process. In the case of CLF’s and others’ request for a regional study of our energy needs, a request that became all the more important in the aftermath of the announcement of the Northeast Energy Link project last July, NPT’s counsel went so far as to give DOE talking points and supporting legal citations explaining why granting the request was “not warranted.” DOE’s decision on the request? As NPT would prefer, DOE hasn’t commissioned any regional study or EIS.

What should happen next? Yesterday, CLF filed extensive comments with DOE (1 mb PDF linked here, 10 MB .zip archive of exhibits here), laying out the evidence and requesting major changes in DOE’s environmental review of Northern Pass:

  • First, DOE’s new contractor team has a clear conflict of interest, in violation of governing regulations that prohibit the use of contractors with “any conflict of interest.” The team apparently owes its new contractor job – and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees – to NPT. To ensure the objectivity and integrity of the permitting process, the new contractor team needs to be replaced by a new contractor or qualified DOE team with no conflicts of interest, and without NPT’s involvement.
  • Second, and more fundamentally, DOE needs to change course – now. New Hampshire deserves a fair, impartial, and rigorous review of Northern Pass. NPT, as the permit applicant, predictably would prefer an easy path to approval. It’s DOE’s legal obligation to control the process, promote meaningful public involvement, and safeguard its decision-making from bias and undue influence. In light of NPT’s failure to piece together a northernmost route, DOE has ample time to start again, with a more open and objective approach that would help to rebuild the public’s confidence in this important permitting process.

UPDATE: Help us tell DOE to fix the process by replacing the contractor team and instituting the fair, legally sound process that New Hampshire deserves. It only takes a few clicks. Take action now here.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

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