Saturday, February 09, 2008

The 60-day difference

What does the 60-day extension of the deadline for the N.Y. DOS really mean, anyway?

Gov. Eliot Spitzer's office: It's an opportunity for more dialogue on a complex issue.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal: Broadwater still hasn't provided N.Y. with enough information to make a decision.

Broadwater senior vice president John Hritcko: It's just part of the normal review process. (That's about all Hritcko ever has to say about anything.)

Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito: It's an opportunity, granted to Shell Oil and TransCanada by Spitzer, to mount a massive PR campaign to change public opinion about Broadwater, so that an OK by NY wouldn't spell political suicide for Spitzer.

I think Esposito's assessment is on target. The media blitz has begun. Last night, I went out for a late dinner with my husband. We were at The Birchwood in Polish Town, here in Riverhead. They have several TVs positioned around the pub-style restaurant. The one facing my seat was tuned to Channel 12. In the course of about an hour, four Broadwater commercials aired.

Dick Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society says Broadwater is spending $100,000 on its media campaign. That's barely a drop of oil in the barrel for Big Energy companies like Shell and TransCanada. They could spend 10 times that without blinking. And they just might.

The DOS has already written its decision (74 pages long) and was prepared to issue it on time, according to a source I can't name, but who is in a position (inside government) to know. The DOS does not believe the floating gas terminal is consistent with the state's coastal resources management plan and its decision letter rejects the plan.

It is possible the delay allows the DOS to dot every i and cross every t, just to make sure the decision can withstand the inevitable legal challenges, my source says.

But this delay is awfully convenient for Broadwater, a chance to blanket the air waves with ads, and distribute checks to local charities (like United Way of Long Island, which got $150,000 from Shell and Broadwater, announced at a press conference in Deer Park Tuesday, which I covered for Times/Review Newspapers.)

The delay also allows Big Energy, including the nuclear crowd, to circle the wagons and apply pressure on the ultimate political decision maker, Eliot Spitzer.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a press release from the N.Y. Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, or NY AREA, announcing "NY AREA calls for state to approve Broadwater: Essential, clean energy is needed now."

NY AREA is a pro-nuclear group partly funded by the owner of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Its mission, according to its Web site, includes keeping the Indian Point power plant operating.
NY AREA's chairman, according to the press release, is Jerry Kremer — that's Arthur J. (Jerry) Kremer, former Democratic member of the State Assembly (for 23 years), lawyer and registered lobbyist. Clients for whom he has lobbied government include the tobacco giant Phillip Morris, LIPA, and, according to records on the Web site of the state temporary commission on lobbying, NY AREA. (Click here and type in Kremer in the "lobbyist name field" for records 2004 and later.) Jerry Kremer, his law firm and his various lobbying firms (I counted three) have, collectively, given upwards of $50,000 to Eliot Spitzer's political campaigns since 2003 — including donations to "Spitzer 2010," the governor's re-election campaign committee, according to records on the state Board of Elections Web site.

While Broadwater engages in its PR campaign and spreads "good will" by doling out checks to local charities, you can bet political powerhouse lobbyists like Kremer will be working Spitzer behind the scenes to get the State Department's consistency letter rewritten to approve this behemoth gas terminal.

Esposito, meanwhile, after squawking about Spitzer meeting with Shell Oil but declining to meet with "the people," as been granted an audience with the governor himself Monday at noon in Albany. She's already been warned by his staff that the meeting will be "short."

She'll be rushing back to Long Island in time to debate the merits of Broadwater with Shell CEO John Hofmeister on Channel 12 live at 7 pm.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

State and Broadwater agree to 60-day extension

By Denise Civiletti
Broadwater Energy and the N.Y. Department of State have signed an agreement extending by 60 days the state agency’s deadline for ruling on whether Broadwater’s plan to build a floating liquefied natural gas terminal in the L.I. Sound is consistent with the state’s coastal resources management plan.
The agreement was signed Thursday (Feb. 7), according to Froydis Cameron, a spokesperson for Broadwater. The extension, she said, was requested by the state.
The state’s consistency determination was due by Feb. 12. The deadline for the DOS decision had already been pushed back several times by agreement between Broadwater and the DOS, in order to allow the DOS the opportunity to review the final environmental impact statement issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before making its consistency determination.
The FEIS was issued by FERC Jan. 11. FERC staff concluded that, with specified mitigation measures in place, Broadwater would have minimal adverse environmental impacts.
The State Department’s decision is a crucial one for the project. If the agency determines Broadwater’s plan is inconsistent with the state’s coastal resources management plan, the only way the project could move forward is upon the U.S. secretary of commerce ruling that its construction is in the interests of national security.
Less than three weeks ago, the chief executives of Shell Oil Company and TransCanada Corp., joint venture partners in Broadwater Energy, met with Gov. Eliot Spitzer, according to John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil.
Mr. Spitzer has been conspicuously silent about the Broadwater proposal, which has drawn the opposition of most elected officials on Long Island and in Connecticut, including Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell.
“We wanted to make sure he was fully apprised of our views of the FEIS and our efforts to meet the FEIS terms and conditions,” Mr. Hofmeister said in an interview Tuesday morning.
Mr. Spitzer was “very clear to explain his current neutrality” on the Broadwater plan, Mr. Hofmeister said. The governor told the energy chiefs “he would review the Department of State’s recommendation and make a decision from there,” Mr. Hofmeister said.
Mr. Hofmeister denied that he and TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle asked Mr. Spitzer for an extension of the DOS consistency review deadline in order to have more time to sell their plan to the public.
On Tuesday, spokespersons for Mr. Spitzer and for Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez declined comment on whether discussions were held regarding extending the Feb. 12 deadline. But after the extension was announced yesterday, Mr. Spitzer’s office issued a statement that said “We support the mutual decision of the Department of State and Broadwater to take the appropriate time for dialogue without the looming pressure of a deadline.”
Last week, Broadwater Energy began a campaign aimed at winning public support for its project. In print, television and radio ads now running in the New York metropolitan area market, Broadwater says its proposed terminal will lower heating and electric costs for Long Islanders without damaging the environment.
Broadwater senior vice president John Hritcko said Tuesday this is “the appropriate time” for the company to get its message out to residents, with the deadline for the state department’s coastal consistency determination looming and the possibility that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may vote on Broadwater’s permit application as soon as Feb. 21.
“If the deadline is extended, Broadwater wins,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Tuesday. CCE, a Farmingdale-based nonprofit organization has led public opposition to Broadwater’s plans. Ms. Esposito said she fears Mr. Spitzer might support Broadwater if the energy company could garner more support from the public through its current media campaign and other community-outreach efforts such as corporate giving.
Mr. Hofmeister came to Long Island Tuesday to announce a $150,000 gift to United Way of Long Island. The gift on behalf of Broadwater won the company accolades from United Way of Long Island CEO Chris Hahn, who said the donation to the organization’s Project Warmth would provide emergency heating assistance to families in need on Long Island. “It really does show Broadwater is committed to Long Island,” Mr. Hahn said at a press conference called to announce the gift. “They are good corporate citizens on Long Island,” he said. “We’re very grateful that Shell Oil and Broadwater have stepped up to the plate.”
Ms. Esposito, who did not attend the press conference, said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon that the donation to United Way of Long Island was part of a “public relations scheme” by the energy company, and called the donation amount “pocket change.”
“With $27 billion in profits for 2007, it took Shell Oil less than three minutes to generate that $150,000. That’s not much of a peace offering,” she said.
The Broadwater facility and its 22 miles of new underwater pipeline will cost upwards of $800 million to build. It will be capable of supplying the region with 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily, an influx of new energy that the developer says will result in a median household energy savings of $300 per year for Long Islanders.
Suffolk County and several towns have also filed a lawsuit in an effort to stop the plan, which would moor a 1,215-foot-long floating liquefied natural gas storage and regasification terminal in Long Island Sound, nine miles off the coast of Wading River, in the Town of Riverhead.
Copyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.

Is the Sound up for sale?

Valentine’s Day is coming and Broadwater Energy wants to win your heart. And it’s come calling with more than a box of chocolates and a dozen roses. The would-be natural gas provider has an open checkbook and the deep pockets of its owners, Shell Oil Company and TransCanada Corp., to tap for cash to influence public opinion.

Broadwater has initiated a media blitz in what might be — should be — the last days of opportunity to gain New York’s approval for its plan to moor a huge floating LNG terminal in the waters off the coast of Wading River. In TV, radio and print ads throughout the metropolitan region, Broadwater is crowing about its purported benefits to the Long Island economy and local residents, including a $300 “median household annual savings” on energy costs for Long Island residents.

Why now?

According to John Hritcko, Broadwater’s senior vice president, Broadwater is in the public eye right now, with the Feb. 12 deadline for a decision by the state department coming up and the possibility that the company’s permit application might be on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s agenda for approval at its Feb. 21 meeting. Time for some good PR. And Broadwater is willing to spend a pretty penny to get it, though Mr. Hritcko won’t divulge the amount.

The PR campaign includes well-timed check-passing events like the one staged in the Deer Park headquarters of United Way of Long Island Tuesday morning, where Shell Oil CEO John Hofmeister joined Mr. Hritcko and United Way board members to announce a gift of $150,000 to the organization’s Project Warmth, which provides emergency assistance to residents who need help meeting their heating bills.

United Way of Long Island board members gushed with love and appreciation for Shell, TransCanada and Broadwater, declaring the energy behemoths “good corporate citizens,” and “friends and neighbors.” Bill Savino, chairman of the board, vigorously pumped Mr. Hofmeister’s hand as he proclaimed, “Welcome to Long Island.”

Yep, money talks.

Money wins friends and influences people in high places. Money no doubt explains why Mr. Hofmeister and TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle got some private face time with Governor Eliot Spitzer a few weeks ago. Mr. Hofmeister told me they wanted to make sure Mr. Spitzer understood their proposal and their commitment to protecting the Long Island Sound. Mr. Hofmeister said the governor was “very clear about his neutrality” on Broadwater in his meeting with the chiefs of the two multi-billion-dollar multi-national corporations.
Another thing that’s very clear about Mr. Spitzer is his reluctance to accord the same opportunity for an audience to anti-Broadwater citizen activists. He delegated the task of meeting with “the little people” on this issue to his staff. When the feisty executive director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, Adrienne Esposito, heard last week about Mr. Spitzer’s confab with Shell’s CEO, she blasted him on it publicly. Her complaint was picked up by Channel 12 News last Tuesday and the very next day, the governor’s deputy energy secretary called Ms. Esposito to say the governor would, in fact, meet with her. She’s still waiting for his appointments secretary to call to set it up, as promised.

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. Broadwater will use the time to win the hearts and minds of the public with a slick ad campaign and the spreading of its partner’s corporate largesse. If Broadwater can sway public opinion and the governor can avoid another public relations debacle — he’s already had his share — he’ll go along with it. Shell and TransCanada also reportedly offered to “sweeten the deal” for the Empire State.

Following Tuesday’s PR ceremony, I asked Shell CEO Hofmeister and Broadwater vice president Hritcko if a deadline extension is being sought and if the company had upped the ante for the supposedly still-undecided Gov. Spitzer. Denials all around. No comment from the governor’s spokesperson or his counterpart at the department of state. By this time next week, we’ll know.

Yet even as the state considers giving a pass to a project that will destroy more than 200 million fish eggs, larvae and small fish in L.I. Sound each year, with the unavoidable impacts that will have on the commercial and recreational fishing industries — not to mention the fish — the DEC on Tuesday issued stricter catch limits for tautog, or blackfish, citing the fishery’s depletion in state waters, including the Sound. Knowing the current condition of local fisheries like this, how can the state even consider approving Broadwater?

If reliance on foreign fossil fuel products like LNG is unavoidable, and some number of the 42 planned new LNG facilities is needed to meet America’s energy demands, surely there’s got to be a better place to build one than the fragile, already-stressed estuary of Long Island Sound.