Monday, November 20, 2006

FERC Releases Broadwater EIS and Says It's Fine To Use Long Island Sound As An Industrial Site

The draft environmental impact statement for Broadwater’s proposed liquefied natural gas factory came out on Friday, and it should surprise no one that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission thinks that a huge, floating LNG facility in waters owned by the people of New York State is a great idea for Long Island Sound.

FERC of course exists to regulate energy facilities, not to reject them. And in this case the commission asserts that with a little work, the environmental effects would be minor, at most. (The EIS is here, on the FERC website; the executive summary is a good source of basic information about the project, written simply and clearly.)

To me, the supposed lack of environmental impacts that Shell and TransCanada would cause in the Sound is almost beside the point, and FERC’s opinion of them should be too.

I don’t mean to say that the professional environmentalists and the shorefront towns and counties should drop their plans to attack the EIS and highlight its shortcomings in public hearings. That’s an important part of the fight. Just because FERC doesn’t think there are environmental impacts doesn’t make it true.

But the more important issue is whether Long Island Island Sound and its seafloor, which are owned by those of us who live in New York State and are held in public trust for us, should be used to subsidize a private industry. And if the answer to that is yes, what is to stop other giant corporations from proposing to use other parts of the Sound as well?

I know some people will point out that there are a couple of floating oil terminals on the Sound already and that they pose a true environmental risk. But that demonstrates that the precedent argument is true. “We can’t say no to Broadwater because we’re already allowed other energy facilities to be built on the Sound,” will lead to, “We can’t say no to this new proposal for an even bigger LNG factory because we’ve already allowed Shell and TransCanada to build the Broadwater plant.”

No one knows yet whether New York State has the power to stop this proposal. Broadwater needs approval from the New York State Department of State based on consistency with policies that guide the use of coastal areas. Twice to my knowledge the Department of State has come down hard on bad proposals – once, in the late 1980s, saying a plan to build a housing development on Davids Island, in New Rochelle, made no sense, and then a couple of years ago, stopping a natural gas pipeline from crossing the Hudson because of its potential environmental impact.

One of those decisions was issued by a Secretary of State appointed by a Democrat, the other by one appointed by a Republican. So it would surprise me if New York State broke precedent and decided that Broadwater was a good idea.

What’s not really clear though is whether the new federal energy act gives the federal government the ultimate power to say yes or no.

My guess is that the courts will decide. My hope is that over the next few days and weeks, we’ll hear a lot more about the issue.

(Connecticut Fund for the Environmental and Citizens Campaign for the Environment both released press statements on Friday that were critical of the EIS; I looked for them online but couldn’t find them and so I can’t provide a link. [12:45 p.m. update ... here's the CCE release.] [1:15 p.m. update ... and CFE's]. The Wading River Civic Association has a brief mention, but I didn’t see anything on the Anti-Broadwater Coalition website. You can find Broadwater’s press release here. I’ve written a lot in the past on whether the Sound is an appropriate place for a new industrial facility; you can find all the links on the lower right of this page.)


Anonymous Bryan Brown said...

There is a more recent DOS decision denying consistency. In April 2005, NY Secretary of State Daniels "objected to the consistency certification" of the St. Lawrence Cement Company. I can't say whether any part of the decision has implications for Broadwater, but it is a good example of the mechanics of a DOS consistency determination. As far as I can tell, the DOS determination stands.

10:02 AM  

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