Thursday, January 12, 2006

If We Can't Review the Plans for Broadwater's LNG Plant, Shouldn't that be Broadwater's Problem and Not Ours?

The Connecticut papers covered Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s press conference yesterday, at which he said (for the second time in a week) that the design and engineering information for Broadwater’s LNG proposal needs to be reviewed and debated publicly to make sure the proper decision about the plant is made.

Here’s how the Hartford Courant explained the issue (which the Times and the Energy Outlook blog wrote about the other day):

The federal government put such documents [that is, the design and engineering plans] for much of the nation's infrastructure under wraps after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001….

"There is no secrecy order," said Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC. Any U.S. citizen can apply to review the design information, she said, but they must agree not to publicly disclose any of it.

The policy covers documents such as construction drawings, detailed plot plans and piping diagrams. She said federal policy that keeps such information from broad public view applies to any number of existing facilities and proposals.

Those who get to view the information can discuss it among themselves and submit comments to FERC, she said. Those comments also would be shielded from public view.

On Sunday, the Times said:

The document at issue, "Environmental Resource Report 13, Engineering and Design Material," is being withheld from public view by the commission because of a rule it adopted in 2003 limiting public disclosures about liquefied natural gas plants, refineries, pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

I don’t know enough to be able to say if it makes sense to keep such plans secret in every single case. But I do agree with Geoffrey Sykes of Energy Outlook when he says it is absolutely illogical to assume that because the plans can’t be reviewed by the public at large, that automatically means the plant will be unsafe.

Maybe the question is whether the plans really need to be kept secret. If the plans were reviewed publicly, and if the threat of a terrorist attack therefore increased, could the increased threat be negated by better security?

If so, then the problem should be put back on Broadwater: Namely, the plans have to be made public so we can be sure they are reviewed and debated thoroughly; therefore you, Broadwater, need to demonstrate that you can make the facility secure enough even though terrorists might know about the plans.

Here’s how the New London Day and the New Haven Register covered Blumenthal’s press conference.


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