Is Shell Trying To Buy Influence on the Broadwater Decision?
Each year a government grants program called the Long Island Sound Futures Fund doles out money to groups in New York and Connecticut who are working to improve the Sound. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service administers the fund, in cooperation with the Long Island Sound Study, which is a project of the U.S. EPA. Money for the grants generally comes from the Fish & Wildlife Service, EPA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the Department of Commerce.
The fund gives away about $900,000 a year in grants. This year, according to Citizens Campaign for the Environment, $135,000 of that came in the form of a donation by Shell Oil, the company (along with Trans-Canada) who wants to build a huge liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of the Sound.
Buying influence or simply buying goodwill, which is an oft-practiced public relations technique? NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, and EPA all have roles in the Broadwater review. Here’s how someone with knowledge of the process explained to me the potential for influencing the Broadwater decision:
Broadwater needs a permit from the New York State Department of State's Coastal Zone division; it’s actually a federal permit delegated to the state by NOAA. If the state denies Broadwater a permit, Broadwater can appeal to the guy who oversees NOAA, namely the Secretary of Commerce. EPA and Fish & Wildlife, meanwhile, participate in the Broadwater environmental review by providing information to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will make the final decision on Broadwater’s proposal.
I have a hard time imagining that EPA or Fish & Wildlife would someone give incomplete or biased information to FERC because Shell shelled out $135,000 for a grants program. On the other hand, it might be exactly the kind of thing that influences the Department of Commerce.
The other issue, as someone who has been following the situation put it to me in an e-mail, is “pervasiveness of influence.” Keep in mind that Broadwater, through a company consultant named Joel Rinebold, got themselves a seat on the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Long Island Sound Study. Now one of Broadwater’s sponsors is pouring money into the region to help fund the work of grass roots organizations. The email said:
I think the issue is more about pervasiveness of influence and the chilling effect they could have on the region's stakeholders -- they squirmed onto the LISS CAC and now they are a major cash infusion for the primary granting program of NY and CT LIS work. Will anyone who gets a grant have to plug Shell's generous support?
I don’t know the answer, but it’s worth being aware of what Shell is up to.