Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who's looking out for us?

"I don't think I could stand to read another article about Broadwater," said a newspaper staff member the other day.

It stopped me cold, since lately I've been the person doing the Broadwater reporting in our newsroom. What was she saying? Am I boring her to death? It must be bad, to inspire a staff member to tell her, er, boss that she can't stand reading what said boss is writing.

If newsroom staff feel that way, what about our readers?

What about you? Are you sick of Broadwater?

I hope not, because there's plenty yet to come. There has to be. This issue is the biggest and most important issue we've seen in decades. Broadwater, if built, will have irreversible impacts on what is arguably our region's most unique and precious natural resource: Long Island Sound. We will be living with the consequences of Broadwater for generations to come, and those consequences are not small.

Broadwater will pollute the Sound, a designated estuary of national significance, a fragile ecosystem already under stress (thanks to existing industrial and municipal discharges) into which the federal and state governments have poured tens of millions of dollars for cleanup and restoration. Broadwater will take in sea water, killing marine life caught up in the process, then discharge wastewater treated with a chlorine derivative that's harmful to aquatic life.

It will pollute the air with its smokestacks. Broadwater has asked to be exempt from air-emission standards, arguing that the air at the site is not "ambient air" because the entire area surrounding the facility — 1.5 square miles — will be a designated security zone from which the public is barred. Last I heard, air travels. What will those of us downwind from the facility be breathing in? We are already living with the dirtiest air in the state outside of New York City.

As we've reported, Broadwater will wreak havoc on the commercial and recreational fishing industries in the Sound. The floating security zones required by the Coast Guard will create a nightmare for commercial and recreational fishermen and boaters from the Race off Orient Point to Port Jefferson.

And unless the Coast Guard rules otherwise, ferry operations out of Orient will be disrupted every time a liquefied natural gas carrier crosses the ferry routes — four to six times a week, at least.

Broadwater's impacts are not limited to the environment. The annual economic value of the Sound to New York State is in excess of $250 billion.

Broadwater creates significant safety risks for our community. According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement the farthest reach of an ignitable vapor cloud in the event of a carrier accident in the eastern Sound encompasses most of the North Fork, from mid-Southold to Orient Point. That's a vapor cloud that will burn if it comes into contact with any ignition source — any flame or spark. If there's a carrier accident in the eastern Sound, a cloud of liquefied natural gas — which won't yet be "odorized," by the way — can encompass most of the North Fork and, if ignited, scorch everything it comes into contact with.

But, hey, don't worry. This is, we're told, "very unlikely."

How confident can we be that the public and the environment are going to be protected by federal regulators — versus the interests of the rich and powerful multinational corporations proposing Broadwater?

Joseph Kelliher, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that decides if Broadwater gets approved, was previously a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm representing Broadwater before FERC: LeBeouf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. According to the firm's Web site, it's been "intimately involved" in representing clients before FERC for 30 years.

Intimately, indeed. "Many of our specialist attorneys have held leadership positions at the FERC," the LeBeouf site boasts. Yes. For instance, Lawrence Acker, the LeBeouf partner who lists Broadwater among his clients and who "concentrates his practice" on FERC cases. Three other partners in the firm were previously attorneys at FERC — including its former general counsel and an assistant deputy general counsel — where they worked on natural gas projects and regulations.

LeBeouf, Lamb has 11 lawyers who practice regularly, if not exclusively, before FERC. That comes in handy for the firm's clients, since they have to work closely with FERC to get projects like Broadwater approved.

Here's how FERC describes the review process on its Web site: "Prior to a company filing an LNG-related application, company representatives commonly meet ... staff to explain the proposal and solicit advice. These meetings provide prospective applicants the opportunity for staff to offer suggestions related to the environmental, engineering and safety features of the proposal. In this manner, staff learns about future projects which may be filed at the Commission and help direct companies in their application preparation."

This sure sounds pretty cozy — like our "public servants" are serving as consultants to the attorneys they used to work with, who are now representing companies seeking FERC approvals.

These are the folks looking out for the public interest? And if not them, then who?

It's up to us to look out for ourselves on this one.

Which is why there will be plenty more about Broadwater on the pages of this newspaper in the weeks and months to come.

Copyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.


l.simms said...

Not sick or bored...just incredulous that this project is still alive after what appeared a decisive "piling on" when it was 1st announced. Short of turning Fresh Kills into a nuclear waste repository, this is the worst energy-related plan imaginable for our region.

Each new revelation makes the plan seem even more foolhardy, or the process less legitimate. I'm hoping your coverage helps opposition build until FERC just gives up.

Don't back off.

Anonymous said...

For someone who is, in your words, "the person doing the Broadwater reporting in our newsroom" you are rather biased. That's fine, but you should drop the pretension that you are "reporting" or that what you write is "news." Maybe try "I am the person commenting against Broadwater from our staff."

By the way, stop being naive. As a law school graduate you should be fully aware that lawyers move in an out of federal and state agencies all the time. And when they do, what specialtly do you think they practice? Are you surprised everytime a former prosecutor, who has become a defense lawyer, negotiates a plea bargain with the state on behalf of the defendant?

Anonymous said...

Her reporting hasn't been biased. Denise is a professional and knows how to keep her opinions out of news stories she writes. And she does. But she's entitled to her own opinions and entitled to express them in her editorials. She knows the difference. Do you? It's not naive to expect/demand the government to look out for the public interest. Do you really think that's what FERC is doing?

ponquogue said...

The justification for Broadwater is that energy demand is rising and the region will need access to LNG as another source of energy. All of your criticisms of Broadwater have merit, but could be "overlooked" on the basis of regional economic and energy security. More people need to say NO to Broadwater and NO to increases in fossil fuel consumption. Where are the leaders who demand reductions in fossil fuel consumption? NJ has now committed to reducing state emissions by 20%. Long Island needs to tell Albany we are prepared to do the same.


Anonymous said...

Denise - LLG&M has over 700 attorneys. Their FERC practice represents just a small portion of their overall business.

Had Chairman Kelliher worked directly for Broadwater he would have been required to recuse himself from Broadwater activities. It is not unusual at all for FERC to meet with applicants before filing an application. FERC and the applicant will be working together for years on a project. Their relationship should be cordial and professional, in no way does that interferes with the roles that each much play.

I've done half a dozen projects with FERC. While on friendly terms, I certainly haven't gotten everything I wanted before the commission.

Is guilt by association your story? That seems a rather shallow form of journalism.

Anonymous said...

FERC's mission is to get LNG facilities built. Who's kidding who? That's why they "work together" so well with gas & oil companies and their lawyers.

Broadwater didn't exist when Kelliher was chairman. Shell/Transcanada did. Does this Law Firm represent them? Civiletti should check that out.

It's not "guilt by association"; it's the same old story. Government "regulators" representing the interests of the people they're supposed to be regulating more vigilantly than the interests of the public. True of countless government agencies & commissions.

mikeo said...

Your newspaper staffer finds the Broadwater story tiresome? Maybe she's in the wrong line of work: Entertainment Tonight might be a better calling. Dirty (in many senses) companies like Broadwater depend on short attention spans and apathy to have their way. But the company seems to have miscalculated public reaction in proposing the project for our area (which doesn't belong anywhere). This is a story with implications that range from the local to international. Keep digging, Denise.

Nicole said...

Hmmm. So much to say. First, I wonder who "anonymous" is. Might you be a little biased?

Second, this is Denise's column, which is supposed to be an opinion piece. Her news articles (if you've read them) are not biased.

Third, of course the fight is up to us. I was there for the very first meeting between Broadwater people and the Wading River Civic Association Board. I sat through the rhetoric and read the glossy brochure. I knew then, in the fall of 2004, that this was not a good project for us - or for anyone. Natural Gas is another fossil fuel, isn't it, I asked.

And a wise Civic president told me that we had a very long and daunting journey ahead of us. All the decision making power was up to the FERC he told me, and they kind of work for the energy companies.

So it's certainly not naive to be surprised and upset by the fact that the ferc is so cozy with Broadwater. I don't think they anticipated such strong and intelligent oposition. We've kept their approval delayed for all this time - they didn't expect that, I know for sure.

We can't stop talking about this. Not until after the article that describes the rejection of Broadwater's application.