Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Broadwater's Stacked Deck

There’s another point to be made about FERC’s environmental impact statement process for the LNG facility in Long Island Sound, and it’s this: He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Technically, FERC is conducting the environmental study and writing the impact statement. But Broadwater – that is, Shell and TransCanada – are paying for it. That means the people who stand to make a huge profit from a proposal to usurp a public resource have the ear of the federal regulators pretty much whenever they want it. It also means they have tremendous influence on how the environmental impact statement is written: how comprehensive it is, how easy it is to use and to understand, what gets emphasized and what gets underplayed.

As a friend explained it to me:

The fundamental issue under NEPA/SEQR [the National Environmental Policy Act and the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which govern environmental impact reviews] has always been on the one hand to force governmental decision makers to consider the environmental impacts of their decisions (integration of environmental values) versus “putting the fox in charge of the hen house.” FERC is to some extent the captive of the industry it regulates so it is hardly impartial. That is why the NEPA requirement for intergovernmental and intra governmental comment on the DEIS is so important. It is also why public scoping under SEQR is so important.

Never forget that Broadwater is paying the piper. The deck is stacked. But it’s not stacked so badly that the people who don’t want Long Island Sound to become the site of an industrial facility can’t win. The place to start, though, is at next week’s meetings.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Rick said...

Tom,

I was one of the authors for the FERC EIS for the Iroquois Pipeline. I must respectfully challenge your implication that the contents of the EIS are determined by the applicant.

Preparation of the Iroquois EIS involved considerable consultation with numerous government agencies. A draft EIS was subject to intense scrutiny by federal, state, and local government agencies (besides FERC), NGOs, Civic Groups, and individuals. I personally addressed many of the comments made on the draft document.

Consider the last two sentences in your friend's explanation. The NEPA/SEQR process opens up the evaluation of a proposed project to people who might otherwise not be included. I remember reading and responding to a letter from a gentleman who was "considering" becoming a commerical shellfisher. This is the kind of inclusiveness that the process facilitates.

The EIS process doesn't stack the deck. Instead, it opens the process and prevents an applicant from being the sole source of input for the decision that the lead regulatory agency must make.

8:55 PM  
Blogger "Geologist" Greg said...

You get a permit, you get conditions... not card blanc. I, like Rick claims, worked as a consultant to FERC on this very subject matter, -on the Iroquois, as well as on many other similar natural gas transmission pipelines. The jurisdictional agencies to inspect and report were the soil conservation districts along the route and not the issuer of the permit to construct. The liability is that only of the pipeline company. Every one of these soil conservation districts and state ag agencies were notified of this project in the assembly of the conditions of the permits soil erosion control and revegetation plan. This was no small feat, I assure you. The soils work alone took months to complete, this being before GIS systems permeated the industry. Jobs needed to be done right the first time around -ethically. We are All responsible for our professional actions. There are no foxes and no hen-houses... only unethical behaviors which deserve the attentions of our justice system. Rick's final line is a good one. NEPA does not replace our legal/justice system... it just applies it/advocates justice to our environment. The soil erosion and revegetation specification that was largely ignored in areas where failures occured, was written with options which entailed considering local details. Ignoring the spec was not one of the options however. No gimme's, no oop's, no mulligans, only a spec, ironically written at an 8th-grade level, which was left in the dust of corporate "progress." I know this time period had many challenges going on... with this project, but shortcuts that physically endangered the very project you are rushing to complete is unethical... it passes through folks back yards for crying-out loud. It is a monster-big pipeline too... to be rolling those dice. No brainer.

5:19 PM  

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