Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Only Way We'll Know if Broadwater's LNG Plant Will Be Safe is to Get the Plans and Discuss them in Public

Because of federal regulations, the details of Broadwater’s plans for the LNG terminal it wants to put in Long Island Sound can’t be released to the public at large. But the plans can be released to individuals, assuming an individual applies to FERC, passes a background check and promises not to make the plans public or discuss them in public. You can study and evaluate the plans, and you can tell FERC what you think of them, but can’t talk about them with anyone else.

Unfortunately what that means is that if, like most of us, you’re not an expert in the design and engineering of an LNG terminal, you are prohibited from seeking out an expert and asking for an opinion to help you figure out what you should think – because you’re not allowed to discuss the plans with anyone.

All you can do is tell FERC what you think and trust them to make the right decision.

This is exactly the kind of situation that demands a public debate and discussion – the kind that would allow non-experts to listen to a lot of opinions and information and then use what they learn to form an opinion.

But if you do that, presumably you’d be arrested for breaking the regulations.

And yet a lot of people think the regulations are flawed and that they are preventing those of us who live near the Sound from evaluating whether they will be safe if the Broadwater plant is built.

What if those people – say, several hundred people in Connecticut and Long Island – applied to FERC, got the plans, and then engaged in an orderly, public discussion of them?

One person making the plans public might face arrest; it’s unlikely that that federal government would arrest 200 for doing it, particularly if they were debating an important public policy issue in an orderly and responsible fashion. In fact, the more the better, both in terms of the number of people participating and the number of forums.

And if the public discussion compromised the security of the LNG plant, it would then be Broadwater’s responsibility to make the plans better and safer, rather than our responsibility to take Broadwater’s and the federal government’s assurances on faith.

Here’s what Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, according to the New London Day:

“Secrecy will not disarm terrorists. It will only disadvantage the public. … It will disable efforts to accurately and accountably evaluate risks. Secrecy spawns distrust. Concealment signals danger,” said Blumenthal.

And Newsday, in an editorial, said this:

To prevent terrorist attacks on the nation's energy infrastructure, FERC places restrictions on the disclosure of design and engineering details. But while national security is critical, New York and Connecticut need to determine whether the novel idea of a floating terminal nine miles off Riverhead would be a threat, for instance, in a hurricane.

True, getting the plans and discussing them in public, en masse, would be an act of civil disobedience. But if the anti-Broadwater people, including elected officials in Suffolk County and in Hartford, truly believe that our safety depends on making the plans public, what other solution is there?

1 Comments:

Anonymous Bryan Brown said...

Tom,

On 9/28/05, I submitted a request by fax to FERC for CEII, specifically, Resource Report (RR) 13, which addresses engineering and design material. My request followed to the letter the instructions for requesting CEII as provided on the FERC website.

After waiting three months to receive a response, I refaxed my request last week, including the receipt for my original fax transmission.

If there are others out there who have made requests for CEII that haven't been processed by FERC, make yourself known and show how FERC is being disingenuous about releasing this information.

Until the design information is made available to the public (albeit in a balkanized way), we only have FERC's comments to the draft RRs to obtain some insight into what the reports contain.

On 11/23/05, FERC provided comments to Broadwater re: RR 13. To FERC's credit, they specifically requested that Broadwater evaluate their safety information viz. the Sandia report and include it as public information in RR 11. The degree to which Broadwater was responsive can be evaluated by anyone who reads Section 11.3.1 of RR 11 from December. My personal opinion is that Broadwater still hasn't explicitly answered FERC's question re: how applicable their model is to the model used in the Sandia report.

Bryan Brown

PS. In case anyone from FERC is reading this, if/when I ever get access to the information, I intend to honor my committment to adhere FERC's limitations on disclosure.

1:27 PM  

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