Last week, a major disaster for our climate and our nation’s clean energy future was averted – at least for now – when the Obama administration announced that it won’t consider approving the Keystone XL pipeline’s border crossing permit before it reconsiders the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts and the potential alternatives to the proposal on the table. For all the reasons that my colleague Melissa Hoffer articulated in her post last week, the Keystone XL victory was a resounding, if limited, triumph with important lessons for environmental and climate advocates across the country as we confront, one battle at a time, the seemingly overwhelming challenge of solving the climate crisis.
The Keystone XL decision also hits home in another way. It sends an unmistakable signal that the federal government’s review process for New England’s own international energy proposal – the Northern Pass transmission project – needs the same type of new direction.
The parallels between the State Department’s Keystone XL environmental review and the mishandled first year of the U.S. Department of Energy’s review of Northern Pass are striking. In both cases, we saw:
- Troubling, improperly close relationships between the developer and the supposedly independent contractors conducting the environmental review, with unfair and inappropriate developer influence on the review’s trajectory, undermining the public legitimacy of the review process;
- An extraordinary grassroots uprising against the proposal from diverse groups of residents, landowners, communities, businesses, and conservation and environmental groups;
- Massively expensive lobbying and public relations campaigns by proponents designed to confuse and mislead lawmakers and the public
- Repeated failures by permitting agencies to ensure fair, open, and truly comprehensive review of the full range of impacts, including climate impacts, and the reasonable alternatives for meeting our energy needs in other, less environmentally damaging ways.
With all the legal, procedural, and substantive deficiencies our national advocate colleagues have been pointing out for years, the Keystone XL review (before last week) is a dramatic example of what we can’t allow to happen with Northern Pass. Right now, things don’t look good – it appears that the Department of Energy is engaging in an “applicant-driven,” narrow review of a few potential project routes, not the broad, searching analysis CLF and many others have demanded again and again (and again). Last week’s decision to conduct a wide-ranging new review of Keystone XL shows that there is still the opportunity (and now a clear precedent) for the Department of Energy to bring the same spirit of renewed scrutiny and public responsiveness to its review of Northern Pass.
New Hampshire and New England deserve an impartial, comprehensive, and rigorous review of the Northern Pass project – and all reasonable alternatives – by the permitting agencies entrusted with protecting the public interest. Indeed, what we need now is a serious regional plan that addresses whether and how best to import more Canadian hydropower into New England and the northeastern U.S. With huge projects like Keystone XL and Northern Pass on the table, our nation’s energy future is at stake, and it has never been more important – for our communities, economy, natural environment, and climate – to get it right.
For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (https://www.clf.org/northernpass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.