Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blumenthal Tells New York that Blue Oceans Means There's No Need for Broadwater

I have no idea if, when he was New York's Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer had a good relationship with Richard Blumenthal, his counterpart in Connecticut, but if he did he might take more seriously Blumenthal's arguments against Broadwater's proposal to put a liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound, just over the border in New York's waters.

Yesterday Blumenthal sent a letter to the New York State Office of General Services, which will have to decide whether Broadwater (Shell and TransCanada) should get a lease to use the state-owned land at the bottom of the Sound. He argued that a recent proposal by Blue Ocean Energy (Exxon Mobil) for the Atlantic Ocean would safer and would do less damage to the environment than Broadwater's proposal. From Blumenthal's press release:

He stated that the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) mandates consideration of alternatives, including the newly proposed BlueOcean Energy LNG. SEQRA says that the office must reject Broadwater if an alternative is safer with less environmental impact and provides comparable service.

Blumenthal wrote that Exxon's recently proposed BlueOcean Energy LNG -- 20 miles off New Jersey -- is such an alternative, promising to provide New York with 20 percent more natural gas than Broadwater while causing less environmental damage and posing fewer public safety risks. New York law therefore requires rejection of Broadwater, he said.

"BlueOcean Energy is a clear, direct alternative to Broadwater, which is obviously far less dangerous and destructive to the environment than Broadwater," Blumenthal wrote. "While Broadwater would devastate pristine, untouched areas in Long Island Sound and endanger the lives of countless recreational and commercial sailors, the BlueOcean Energy project would be located 20 miles off the coast, away from crowded areas of the Sound. BlueOcean would also deliver 1.2 bcfd of natural gas, 20 percent more gas than Broadwater, directly to the important New York and New Jersey gas markets.

"Compared with BlueOcean Energy, Broadwater has far greater negative environmental impact. Broadwater would require approximately 30 miles of undersea pipe while BlueOcean would build only 20 miles. Further, the seafloor of Long Island Sound has unique and highly vulnerable natural resources that would be compromised by construction as described in the Attorney General's comments of April 20, 2007.

"Finally, due to the confined environment of the Sound, any accident or terrorist attack involving either the LNG facility or its attendant tankers would pose a vastly greater threat of unacceptable damage than would an accident in open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, the impact minimization requirement of SEQRA mandates denial of the Broadwater project."

SEQRA is an interesting and sometimes maddening law that can frustrate developers, environmentals, neighborhood activists, and even the agency trying to use it to decide what to do on a project -- and all at the same time. It can also be manipulated successfully by any of those or their lawyers. But when it's used right it can actually help lead to a rational decision.

In this case, where three New York agencies -- OGS and the departments of State and Environmental Conservation -- have to make independent decisions based on SEQRA, you'd imagine that it would work something like this: each agency follows its regulations and the laws, keeping the governor's staff informed along the way. Meanwhile, the governor starts to form his own opinion, perhaps guided by Judith Enck, who oversees his environmental program. If the agencies reach conclusions that the governor agrees with, he lets them proceed. If they don't, maybe they work it out, either by the agency convincing the governor that it's making the right decision or by the governor convincing the agency that it ought to look at the situation a bit harder.

In either case, Blumenthal's opinion could carry serious weight, assuming he had a mutually respectiful relationship with Spitzer to begin with.

Here's Newday's story; and Chris Zurcher mentions it on his relatively new blog, here.



Anonymous PB said...

Spitzer is a politician, so there is a 99.9% chance that he will do exactly what is the most politically expedient thing for his career. Given that he has had some debacles as governor, this is even more true for him now. Let's hope that he and his handlers conclude that Broadwater approval is a net loss for his political career. That is way more important to defeating Broadwater than any letter from Blumenthal.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

One man's "alternative" is another man's "tremendous environmental burden and...accident waiting to happen" (from Atlanticville by way of CGBlog).

Putting aside the NIMBY aspects of the arguing for alternatives, is there someone with SEQRA experience who can comment on the legalities of "reasonable alternatives" as it applies to Broadwater and BlueOcean and the apparent need for discretionary approvals?

9:43 PM  

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