Friday, February 08, 2008

After a Day of Anxiety, New York Delays Its Broadwater Decision

Broadwater hit the fan yesterday. Anxiety is high. Early in the afternoon, Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, send out an email saying her group had filed a Freedom of Information request with the state seeking documents and correspondence about Broadwater; they were particularly interested in anything to do with a meeting Governor Spitzer held three weeks ago with John Hofmeister, the CEO of Shell (Broadwater is a joint venture between Shell and TransCanada).

That meeting and a subsequent PR blitz by Broadwater pissed Adrienne off. Meetings between government officials and businessmen don’t necessarily worry me, unless environmentalists can’t get a similar meeting (and Adrienne learned of Hofmeister’s meeting with the governor, she asked for one too and is getting it, on Monday); PR blitzes don’t overly concern me either. It doesn’t even concern me that CCE criticizes the governor for holding a “secret” meeting with Shell but then arranges its own meeting with the governor (which presumably will be private if not “secret”) or that CCE criticizes Broadwater for its PR blitz when it’s hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to its own PR efforts.

Most interesting to me though was a sentence in CCE’s press release:

CCE has learned that Broadwater is in secret negotiations with NYS to delay the ruling for several months past the Feb 12th deadline.

I was doing real work yesterday and didn’t have time for blogging but I sent off a short email to Adrienne:

you sure of that? how do you know?

Her response:

I am sure.

Then I noticed this terrific piece posted by Denise Civiletti early yesterday morning, which included this:

Mr. Spitzer is in a bind. Both of the state agencies charged with reviewing the Broadwater plan hate it, but he’s under pressure from people like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to clear the path for its approval, according to sources inside the Spitzer administration. Word is the energy execs sat down with the governor to propose another extension of the state’s consistency review decision deadline.

By the time I got home from work, two reporters – Civiletti and Newsday’s Tom Cantalupo – had learned that, indeed, the state and Broadwater agreed to extend the deadline 60 days, and that it was the state that asked for the extension.

So what does the delay mean? I don’t know but I’m hard-pressed to see it as necessarily a bad thing. Having followed other big coastal zone decisions made by the Department of State, I have no doubt of the staff’s honesty and integrity. They are not pushovers for big development. If they asked for a delay, the probably need it. For one thing, they know they’re going to get sued. That reality probably makes them want to be sure their reasoning is sound beyond reproach and that they followed the right legal process to the letter. If it takes an extra 60 days to do so, that’s fine with me.

CCE seems to be concerned that an extra 60 days will allow Broadwater, with its deep pockets, to buy public support through PR efforts and ad campaigns. I’m dubious. The Broadwater argument has been going on since late 2004. How many hearts and minds remain to be changed?

Nevertheless, to go back to the top, it will be fascinating to see what CCE turns up from its Freedom of Information request, which should certainly be complied with before the 60 days are up. The only way for the state to dispel any suspicion is to release every document and email it was asked for, and then for those documents to show that the state is playing it down the middle.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Bryan said...

Tom,
I am at a loss to see why NYS would need an extension. It only makes sense if they intend to ignore their public trust responsibility and are looking for some loophole to get around it. Perhaps they are negotiating for the givebacks from Shell that they think will assuage the public, or at least some of the public.

On the other hand, if they need the time to develop back-up arguments based on environmental issues, I could see it. But why would Shell agree to another extension to give NYS time to shoot them down. It only makes sens if Shell thought they had a good shot at getting it approved.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Sure looks funny doesn't it? Staff are saying that the trenching and the air quality analysis is insufficient, along with a host of other issues. The Governor can't over-ride those issues without a darn good excuse (oops, I mean justification). So the Governor finally punted and granted HIMSELF a 60-day extension.

Classic politics.
-sam

11:27 AM  
Blogger Denise Civiletti said...

Hi, Tom. Thanks for your perspective on this issue. And thanks for your kind words about my work.

I think the fact that the state asked for the extension — rather than Broadwater — is a technicality that may not necessarily reflect the reality of what transpired. Technically, it was the state's deadline, so Broadwater had to be the one to "grant" the extension.

But the DOS has already made its decision. It's already been written, and it's not what the big energy companies want. I've got that on excellent authority.

Either Broadwater wanted more time to submit more information for DOS to review, or it wanted more time to be able to do the kind of political maneuvering and PR that CCE's Esposito fears.

Because of the rumors about Hofmeister meeting with Spitzer and asking him for more time so they could sway the court of public opinion, I asked both Shell CEO Hofmeister and VP Hritcko (the Shell VP overseeing Broadwater) on Tuesday if they were or had been discussing an extension with the state, with either the governor or DOS. They both denied it flat-out. Now Hritcko says DOS requested the extension on Wednesday. Coincidence? Doubtful.

Time will tell. I wonder if DOS, the agency that includes NY's Committee on Open Government, will be forthcoming in response to CCE's FOIL request.

Meanwhile, Esposito is scheduled to debate Hofmeister live on News 12 Long Island Monday evening at 7 pm.

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

If the report has already been written, then the only conclusion is that Spitzer doesn't have the [fill in the euphemism] to run with it.

Some public advocate he turned out to be.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous mike oil said...

Tom,

I think you're a a little too sanguine about the predictability of public opinion. When a charity - of all entities - such as United Way starts singing Broadwater's praises, public opinion can unfortunately start to change very fast. Who know who else Shell/Broadwater plans to dangle money in front of: these people are pros and we have every reason to worry about fickle public opinion.

10:53 PM  

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