FERC's Broadwater Environmental Review: Who Is Responsible and How Important Is It That The Study Has Serious Flaws?
Not to sound negative here, but just because the quality of work might be cheesy doesn't mean the permit review is inherently wrong or invalid.
That is why most appeals to Federal District Court which win are based on administrative law, not substance. For example, if a public hearing was not properly noticed, that could send the entire shebang back to square one. If the EPA failed to be consulted about the NY/CT State Implementation Plan for ozone and particulate, that would be another. If the FERC "fast track" approval process was ruled invalid, that would also have repercussions for Broadwater.
But my impression is you can't win by arguing about the pipeline trenches.
Sam is saying that legal process is paramount and that in terms of substance the courts give the people who are doing the work a lot of leeway to decide what is important.
That’s no doubt true but it doesn’t mean you can’t win by arguing about trenches. You probably can’t win directly, but you can win indirectly, by arguing that the environmental impact statement is incomplete and incompetent. One of the ways to do that is to raise enough serious, substantive objections to force FERC to require a supplemental environmental impact statement. Compiling the supplement, writing it, reviewing it publicly, holding hearings etc. could add a year or more to the environmental review, during which time everything can change – the economics of liquefied natural gas, the need for the project (if some of the many LNG proposals being considered get approved first), the politics (if opposition in New York hardens and Eliot Spitzer decides to stake his reputaion on not letting Broadwater get built.)
The classic example took place 20 years ago, in New Rochelle, when a developer, with the city’s complete approval, proposed building 2,000 condos on Davids Island. Grassroots opposition was fairly weak until the draft impact statement came out and failed to mention that Long Island Sound – in particular the area of Long Island Sound around Davids Island – was in a severe ecological crisis called hypoxia. The DEIS also failed to account for how sewage from the island would be treated at a time when the sewage plant in New Rochelle was operating about a million gallons a day above capacity (which it still is). The Coast Guard, which was the federal agency reviewing the environmental impacts of the proposal, was forced to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement. Delays ensued, other agencies and levels of government weighed in with criticisms, and eventually (in 1991 or 1992, I think) the city of New Rochelle kicked the developer out.
It’s important to note that they key opinion in the Davids Island review came from the New York Department of State, which determined that the development was inconsistent with state policies for use of the coastal zone. The word back then was that Governor Mario Cuomo would have been happy to let the development proceed but, after some serious internal disagreements, he backed off and let his secretary of state, Gail Schaffer, do the right thing. In the Broadwater proposal, the Department of State has the same role.
The other point Sam and Brian Brown make – that FERC’s consultant rather than FERC itself writes the bulk of the environmental impact statement – is true but not particularly relevant. All environmental impact statements are written by consultants. The consultants, however, do what they’re told and what they’re paid to do. No matter who the consultant is, the Broadwater impact statement in FERC’s document and FERC is responsible. If the Connecticut scientists say the work is incompetent, we don’t blame the consultant, we blame FERC.
Now, FERC can blame the consultant if it wants, but that brings up the next relevant point. FERC oversees the study, but Broadwater pays for it. That means that FERC got from its consultant exactly what FERC and Broadwater (and Shell and TransCanada) wanted: an environmental study that glosses over the real issues in hopes that no one will notice. Broadwater pays the piper; Broadwater calls the tune. (There are people who disagree with me on this point, including some in government; the comment in this post is one example.)
But even so, it’s FERC’s document, and if it’s a whitewash and a sham, FERC is responsible.