For Broadwater, All Eyes Are On Albany
One is the bottomless pockets of its big-energy sponsors, TransCanada Corporation and Shell Oil. The second is support, overt and covert, in New York, where the City Council has backed the project as part of a long-term strategy to provide natural gas to the city. The third is a federal regulatory process that is extremely friendly to the energy industry; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month voted 5 to 0 in favor of the project.
And fourth is the fact that one person matters in the regulatory process more than anyone else. That would be the governor of New York, who has enormous power to kill the project or keep it alive.
He also raises the question of whether Eliot Spitzer, the steamroller playing the part of maverick gunslinger, would have been more likely to buck popular opinion than the new governor, David Paterson.
Most of us have heard Mr. Spitzer’s boast on that issue often enough to know that he might have been more willing to expend political capital on a politically unpopular project than the typical politician. And absent strong intervention by the governor, the most relevant sign of the state’s thinking would seem to be a harsh review in December 2007 by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that raised numerous serious concerns about the project, including its negative effects on the Sound’s fisheries.
With the change of governors, people have been expecting another extension of the deadline for the New York Department of State to decide whether Broadwater is consistent with state regulations on the use of coastal resources. An extension could still happen, but it gets less likely as the April 11 deadline looms, and the guess is that without one, the environmental agency’s reservations could settle the issue.
Applebome is partly mistaken, though. Yes, it's true that the DEC has serious misgivings about the process and must issue a permit. But the deadline extension -- from the second week of February to the second week of April -- was to give the state Department of State more time, at least officially (the informed speculation of course is that the Department of State was ready to say no in February and that Broadwater and Shell prevailed on Spitzer to extend the deadline to give Broadwater more time to muster public support, which, by the way, they do not seem to have succeeded at).
The Department of State must certify that Broadwater's plan for an LNG terminal in Long Island Sound is consistent with state (and federally-sanctioned) policies for use of the coastal zone.
People generally think that's more important than the DEC permit because Broadwater can satisfy the DEC's concerns -- about air quality and the number of fush that will be killed in the terminal's cooling system -- by improving the technology they use at the terminal. But if the terminal itself is inconsistent with the state's coastal zone policies, technical improvements don't matter.
In the meantime, it was on March 13 that Governor Paterson said at a news conference that "he might actually ask for a little more time" to make a decision on Broadwater. Since then there hasn't been a peep out of Albany. Spitzer deadline extension came just seven days before the first deadline, so there's still time for Paterson to delay it again.