Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Fundamentally Unsound" Broadwater Impact Statement Needs a Do-Over

In the op-ed piece I wrote for The Times, I argued that so many government experts had found the information and analysis in the FERC's Broadwater environmental impact statement to be seriously lacking, that FERC owed it all of us to issue a full-blown supplemental impact statement, complete with a new public review, comment period and written comments.

The piece ran on Sunday, February 18, in the Times Connecticut, Long Island and Westchester sections. Probably anyone who is interested has seen it already, but I put it up on my other blog, just in case. The Times headline was "Fundamentally Unsound," and you can read it here.

In the meantime, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had an audience yesterday with Eliot Spitzer and emerged saying the Spitzer hasn't made up his mind yet about Broadwater. Newsday reported:

"He listened intently and said he was looking to do an overall, comprehensive review of the area's energy needs before he comes to a decision," Levy said after meeting with Spitzer in Albany. The 15-minute session in Spitzer's office was to discuss a variety of topics, and Levy said they just "touched on" Broadwater.

That, perhaps, is slightly different from what Newsday reported a couple of weeks ago, and which I wrote about here. A prominent environmentalist, by the way, told me that when she read that Spitzer might be leaning toward approving Broadwater, it made her want to vomit.


Message to Rell: Put More Money in the Clean Water Fund

Governor Jodi Rell heard yesterday that her proposal to put $140 million over two years in Connecticut’s Clean Water Fund, while well-intentioned, misses the mark (I wrote about it here earlier in February, and there's more background here). A coalition of municipalities, environmentalists, construction and labor people, and lobstermen went to Hartford and, with a bevy of state Legislators supporting them, called on Rell to double her Clean Water Fund Allocation. From the Hartford Courant:

The Clean Water Investment Coalition said the state needs to allocate about $300 million over the next two years to water-related public works projects, the full amount requested by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy - compared with the $140 million Rell has proposed….

Sen. Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport, said the Sound is Connecticut's equivalent of the Grand Canyon. Boosting funding for clean water projects may be "the single most important thing the environment committee can do for years and years," he said.

Bill Finch, you may remember, is the oyster-eating senator whom Soundkeeper/Legislator Terry Backer brought out on a boat last September as a way of grabbing his colleagues’ attention.

There’s no indication in the Courant article of what Rell would accept, but one would think that if McCarthy (a Rell appointee) is pushing for it, and if the General Assembly is pushing for it, the amount of money on the fund will increase.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Talks, Speeches, Discussions: Long Island Sound Palaver

Out of the blue, a handful of talks and radio appearances have come my way.

The first Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources is being held at UConn’s Storrs campus, on Friday, March 9. It’s a day-long event with lots of great discussions and presentations, followed by a banquet. I’ll talk about Long Island Sound sometime between cocktail hour and dessert. The conference looks very worthwhile, and I’m grateful to Jason Vokoun, assistant professor-fisheries in UConn’s Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering, for inviting me.

On March 13, at 10:30 a.m., I’ll be speaking to the Darien Garden Club, at St. Luke’s Church. The garden clubs take their conservation seriously, and I think this will be the fourth or fifth time I’ve spoken to one. Thanks to Sally Stone for inviting me.

Vincent Breslin, who’s an associate professor in the department of science education and environmental studies at Southern Connecticut State University, asked me to speak to his class, in late March, a repeat performance.

Greg Stone, who’s the deputy editorial page editor at the New London Day, is organizing an interesting symposium, called "Science, Politics and Journalism: Explaining the Broadwater Controversy." It’ll be a panel discussion, with Peter Auster, Science Director, National Undersea Research Center and Associate Research Professor of Marine Sciences, Avery Point; Frank Bohlen, Professor of Marine Sciences, Avery Point; Judy Benson, The Day’s Environmental Reporter; and me. Helen Rozwadowski, associate professor of history and coordinator of maritime studies at Avery Point, will be the moderator. The discussion is sponsored by The University of Connecticut and The Day, and it’s scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on April 4, at Branford House, on UConn’s Avery Point Campus, in Groton.

Lisa Wexler, the host of “Lunch with Lisa,” a call-in radio on radio stations WSTC AM 1400 and WNLK AM 1350, has invited me to be her guest on Saturday, April 7. The show airs from 11 a.m. til noon.

And on April 10, at 10:45, it’s back to the garden clubs – specifically the Stamford Garden Club. The talk is at SoundWaters, which is located in Stamford’s Cove Park. Thanks to Ann Ramsey for inviting me.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Is Governor Spitzer Preparing to Say Yes to Broadwater?

Curt Johnson of Connecticut Fund for the Environment and I were talking the other day about how Broadwater’s fate is probably in New York State’s hands, and I told him that I’d be shocked if Eliot Spitzer thinks the proposal to put a liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound is a good idea.

For one thing, the state Department of State has an admirable history of saying no to projects that are incompatible with state coastal zone policies – Davids Island in New Rochelle and the Millennium Pipeline that was proposed to cross the Hudson being two good examples. The Department of State has already written to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that Broadwater seems to be in violation of several coastal zone policies.

And then there are the letters to FERC from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of General Services, which say that there isn’t enough information in the draft environmental impact statement to make a judgment about how the terminal would affect the Sound.

But today’s Newsday has a story saying that “at least one high-level government source is betting [Spitzer] will” approve the project.

That alone is no reason to panic. There’s not much of a clue in the story about who the high-level source is, and when reporters write a phrase like “at least one high-level source,” it means that only one source made that statement: if two high level sources said it, the reporters would have written that. “At least one” is a reporter’s way of fudging the fact that he couldn’t find anyone else to make that statement but since he didn’t talk to absolutely every high level source there might be another one lurking somewhere.

And the anonymous quote is balanced by an official statement from Spitzer’s spokeswoman:

"He really does want to look at the statement first," said his spokeswoman, Christine Anderson. "He wants to put the time in before commenting."

That’s reassuring.

The story goes on to say, however, that Spitzer has delegated the review to the Long Island Power Authority:

Consultants for the Long Island Power Authority are wrapping up a study examining the Broadwater proposal, and people familiar with the study's conclusions say it paints a generally favorable outlook.

Assemb. Marc Alessi (D-Manor Park), whose district includes areas near the proposed offshore site, said he wrote Spitzer in January expressing concerns about the draft environmental impact statement. Alessi said he was "taken aback a bit" when his letter was answered last week not by Spitzer but by LIPA chief executive Richard Kessel, saying Spitzer had delegated a lead role on Broadwater to LIPA. Spitzer's spokeswoman, Anderson, said Kessel and newly named LIPA chairman Kevin Law would undertake the role.

It’s hard to know what to think about all this, except that it’s clear the Adrienne Esposito has her work cut out for her.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Broadwater Op-Ed in the Times this Sunday.

Look in the New York Times on Sunday, February 18, for my op-ed piece on the Broadwater environmental impact statement. It's scheduled to appear in the Connecticut, Long Island and Westchester sections.

I'll be here until the end of the month:
Morning - Scuol Sot church

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Governor Rell's Clean Water Fund Proposal is Good But Not Good Enough and Also is Less Than Meets the Eye

After years of neglecting the state’s Clean Water Fund, Connecticut politicians seem determined to start putting money back into it in 2007 and therefore to get back in the business of paying for the sewage treatment upgrades that they mandated and that Long Island Sound needs.

Governor Jodi Rell took a step in that direction yesterday, allocating $245 million a year for the Clean Water Fund for each of the next two years. That sounds great, but in truth it seems to me that it’s less than meets the eye. Here’s how someone knowledgeable about the situation described it to me today:

The $245 million breaks down to $70 million in general obligation bonds and $175 million in revenue bonds. The two are part of the same package: the general obligation bonds pay for grants that are given to municipalities and the revenue bonds pay for low interest loans given to municipalities. Sewage upgrade projects that are approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection receive a percentage of the money in grants and a percentage in loans.

But the controlling number is the amount of the grant (the source of which is the general obligation bonds). The DEP program requires that whatever you get in low interest loans (from the revenue bonds) has to be matched by money you get in grants. The match is roughly 35 percent grants to 65 percent loans (it can vary from 30 to 40 percent, depending on the project). But 35 percent of $245 million is about $86 million, which means the $70 million in general obligation bonds is about $16 million short of what is needed to match the $175 million in revenue bonds. So unless the general obligation bond allocation is increased to $86 million, some of the cash in the revenue bond allocation will sit there unused.

Seventy million dollars is what environmentalists and municipal officials had been calling early last year. But as the reality sunk in that the years of neglect by Connecticut would require years of extra funding to compensate, they began saying that the real need was more like $150 million. (For context, last year’s budget included $20 million in general obligation bonds and $67 million in revenue bonds.) And the General Assembly is considering a bill that would put more than $70 million in the Clean Water Fund. Let’s hope the legislators can persuade the governor that the increase is worthwhile.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

FERC Asks: What Endangered Species?

About three weeks ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told FERC that its Broadwater environmental impact statement didn't do a good enough job studying the potential affect of the huge LNG terminal on endangered and threatened birds, particularly roseate terns and piping plovers, both of which nest on Long Island Sound's beaches.

FERC just wrote back, asking essentially, "What are you talking about? Twice in the past two years you told us in letters that no federally-listed or proposed threatened or endangered species under FWS protection were known to exist within the project impact area, there was no critical habitat in the project impact area; and therefore no further coordination or consultation with FWS was required."

So, FERC wonder what gives? It's not an unreasonable question. A perfectly reasonable answer though would be, "Sorry, we made a mistake in our earlier letters and we appreciate the opportunity to correct the mistake. Just like you made a mistake in releasing such a poorly-done environmental impact statement and should now take the opportunity to correct that mistake." The letter is here.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

More Criticism for FERC's Broadwater Review

Evidence of just how bad the Broadwater environmental impact statement is continues to mount on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's website.

From the New York State Office of General Services:

The proposal entails a permanent removal of an area of unprecedented size from the State’s navigable waters for the LNG Project. The EIS should evaluate whether the conveyance of a leasehold or easement to a private entity for the Broadwater LNG Project of substantial acreage in the middle of the Long Island Sound waterway for the floating regasification plant, security zone, connecting pipeline and restricted channel is an abdication of the State’s public trust responsibilities and whether conveyance of such an interest can be done without impairment of the public interest in the lands and waters remaining.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

The DEIS inadequately supports its conclusion that the project will not significantly impact marine resources or public use of the Sound. The DEIS fails to provide a thorough alternatives analysis. The reports and information created by Broadwater are summarized in insufficient detail to inform the public as to the project’s impacts.

Even the U.S. EPA says more work needs to be done on the analysis. For more, click here and type in "Broadwater" in the "text search" box.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Where's the Evidence for Broadwater's Assertion that its LNG Terminal Will Save Consumers $400 a Year?

Once again a Broadwater mouthpiece is asserting in a newspaper that the giant liquefied natural gas terminal they want to build in Long Island Sound will save consumers money, and once again there's not a shred of evidence presented or, apparently, asked for by the newspaper reporter.

The New Haven Register quotes Broadwater's John Hritcko thus:

"It is curious that in a week when Connecticut faces some of the highest energy prices in the country, the town board is willing to consider opposing a project that can help their constituents save up to $400 on their annual energy costs," Hritchko said.

Lobbyist/flack Gary Hale has been making the same assertion for weeks, again without presenting any evidence.

Here's a question or two for reporters to ask the next time Hale or Hritcko makes that claim: "What is that based on? What information or evidence do you have that the terminal will save consumers up to $400?"

If they don't answer the question, then simply write "Broadwater asserted that the terminal would save consumers up to $400 a year but Hrticko [or Hale or Amy Kelley or Joel Ringbold or any of the other shameless corporate flacks] presented no evidence to support the claim."

One more thing: Shell (a partner with TransCanada in Broadwater), the company the wants to use publicly-owned waters and underwater land for its corporate facility, earned record profits last year.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Flacking for Broadwater: Nice Job, Gary Hale

Here’s a group that went to Hartford yesterday to protest high energy prices, arguing that deregulation is the cause.

Here’s a former Connecticut State Senator who is now a lobbyist and who worked closely with the state General Assembly on energy deregulation legislation in 1998.

Here’s a lobbyist who is now a paid flack for Broadwater and who asserts without any evidence that we need a huge liquefied natural gas platform in the middle of Long Island Sound because it will lower energy bills for Connecticut consumers.

Hey, it's the same guy, Gary Hale.

The lobbyist and former public servant Gary Hale got paid to help pass the energy deregulation bill, which lead to higher energy costs, and now gets paid to lobby and flack for Broadwater because it supposedly will lead to lower energy costs. Nice work if you can get it, Gary Hale.

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