Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Newsday Columnist: Broadwater is a Good Idea, and Don't Confuse Me With the Facts

One of the advantages of writing an opinion column or editorial for a newspaper is that you can mouth off without paying any attention to the facts. Phineas Fiske, a retired editorial writer at Newsday, did exactly that in a column today.

It used to be a tenet of journalism that reporters and editorial writers cast a skeptical eye on the government. Fiske has turned that on its head. He wants us to accept government’s assurances blindly while saving our skepticism for the public. Yet why in this era of government ineptitude and outright lying should anyone accept its assurances?

Here’s what Fiske asserts:

Is there any reason the state should not approve Broadwater's plan? It's hard to think of any….

The only questions should be whether there are serious noneconomic risks or costs from the project…

As for … environmental concerns, the … Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [has] largely laid them to rest, finding … no significant impact on the environment….

Opponents of the project say the Coast Guard and FERC studies ignored public concerns. They have it backward: The federal agencies addressed legitimate worries; it's the opponents who are doing the ignoring, by rejecting the agencies' assurances.

The only way it would be hard to think of any reasons why the state should not approve Broadwater’s plan would be if you neglected to take the trouble to spend five or 10 minutes reading the comments about FERC’s environmental impact statement, particularly the letters submitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the Connecticut LNG Task Force, and others; and also neglected to read the transcript of the testimony of four Connecticut scientists, one of whom (Lance Stewart, of UConn), said the impact statement was about the worst he’s ever seen.

Phineas Fiske, those letters can all be found here; just enter “Broadwater” in the text search box near the bottom.

Another thing Fiske fails to recognize, or was too lazy to bother to think about, is FERC’s assertion that there would be no significant environmental impacts. That assertion came in a draft environmental impact statement that has since been ripped to shreds by other federal government agencies and independent scientists. I look forward to reading what Phineas Fiske has to say when FERC decides that the impact statement was inadequate and needs supplemental work.

I doubt that Phineass Fiske is a Broadwater dupe on purpose. I think he simply made up his mind based on his prejudices and his trust that our benevolent government officials would never do anything that is good mainly for corporate interests and bad for the environment. His column today is lazy and credulous, and really not worthy of Newsday.

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Blogger Sam said...

That's a classic debating tactic, Tom. First you say that all the hard facts support your case, with all the negatives being marginal, too difficult to quantify, or are even conjectural ... and thus solely for a political motive. Here, the politics are cast in "green hippie tree hugger" terms, as if denying the project would cause great harm and horrible consequences.

Poor fellow. However, the other side of the argument can be equally frustrating. I call it the "preponderance of many teeny-weenie factoids." You have your fish egg experts, sediment geologists, thermal heat modelers ... and even a lady talking about marble in upstate New York.

This forces the debate into two key concepts. First, all these so-called "indirect" and "non-economic" aspects must be argued as being direct AND having economic impacts, for example the impact on commercial fishng and recreational boating.

Second, all these hundreds of sub-arguments must be tied together with a proverbial string ... to demonstrate that in summation, all these issues are "a preponderance of evidence" that the project should simply be denied.

One does NOT have to argue that that costs outweight the percieved benefits, a trap that was hatched by our retired Newsday columnist here.

I would have to disagree that this effort to analyze Broadwater and deny it is inherently political, since it should be based on the best science available. Yes, the politicians may get into the action and many DA offices are of a political ilk, but it is the science, stupid!

And good science is what is missing from the pro-Broadwater side of the argument.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

You misspelled Mr. Fiske's name in the last paragraph...or maybe not.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Tom Andersen said...

It was a typo -- a mistake -- but maybe there's no such thing as a mistake.

12:16 PM  

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