SHAHEEN WINS EXTRA HEARING ON NORTHERN PASS; PRESSES ADMINISTRATION ON CONFLICT OF INTERESTFebruary 23, 2011
(Washington, D.C.) - In response to a request from U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen on behalf of local residents, the Obama Administration will announce this week an additional public meeting regarding the proposed Northern Pass high voltage transmission line. Shaheen has also demanded a response from U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu about a potential conflict of interest in the environmental approval process.
The proposed line would begin in New Hampshire at the U.S. - Canada border and terminate at a substation in Deerfield, New Hampshire. The Department of Energy is currently conducting an environmental review of the project.
Shaheen has been in frequent contact with the Department of Energy. Earlier this week, her office requested that the Department of Energy hold an additional "scoping" meeting in Plymouth. Today, the Department responded by scheduling a meeting on March 18, from 6 - 9 p.m. at the Plymouth Regional Senior Center, 8 Depot Street, in Plymouth.
"The citizens of our state have many unanswered questions and many concerns about this project, and their voices should be heard," Shaheen said. "An exhaustive and fair environmental review process is mandated by law, and I intend to see that process is followed."
To read more about the environmental assessment scoping process, and for information on additional scoping meetings, go to: http://northernpasseis.us/Permitting_Process/scoping_process.asp
In a separate letter to Chu, Shaheen expressed deep concerns over the Department of Energy's choice to conduct what is required to be an objective environmental assessment. The Department's choice, Normandeau Associates, is also contracted by the company applying to build the new line, Northern Pass LLC, for expert testimony and other professional services related to the project.
Shaheen, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, writes that even the perception of a conflict of interest is problematic given the significance of this Northern Pass project.
Shaheen's full letter is below:
February 22, 2011
The Honorable Steven Chu
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585
Re: Northern Pass Transmission Project Environmental Impact Statement (DOE/EIS-0463)
Dear Secretary Chu,
I write regarding the selection of Normandeau Associates to perform environmental assessment work required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the proposed Northern Pass high voltage transmission line that would begin in New Hampshire at the U.S. - Canada border and terminate at a substation in Deerfield, New Hampshire.
I have the utmost respect for Normandeau Associates and the professionalism of their employees. They are widely respected in New Hampshire and other states where they do work, but I am deeply troubled that the Department of Energy (DOE) selected a firm to perform what should be an objective assessment while it is also doing work for the project applicant. Specifically, Normandeau Associates has been contracted by Northern Pass LLC to provide state and federal agencies with data and permit applications intended to aide in the approval of the project by those agencies. Normandeau has also been contracted to provide expert witness testimony in support of the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) permitting process as well as to participate in public outreach meetings, as requested by the applicant, in support of the project in the SEC process.
As some project interveners have noted in their correspondence to DOE about the selection of Normandeau (see attachment), the Council on Environmental Quality's NEPA regulations require federal agencies, such as the DOE, to avoid any conflict of interest in selecting a contractor to perform NEPA work. "It is the intent of these regulations that the contractor be chosen solely by the lead agency ... to avoid any conflict of interest." (40 C.F.R. § 1506.5(c)) If a prospective NEPA compliance contractor has a conflict of interest, "it should be disqualified from preparing the EIS, to preserve the objectivity and integrity of the NEPA process." (46 Fed. Reg. 18026 (1981))
In order for the public and those affected by the proposed transmission project to have confidence in the DOE permitting process, it is essential that there be no conflict of interest in the approval process. While DOE, Normandeau and Northern Pass LLC have sought to address the potential conflict of interest by separating the employees and teams working on their respective aspects of the project, even the perception of a conflict is problematic given the significance of this project
At your earliest convenience, could you please explain the DOE decision-making process that resulted in the selection of Normandeau Associates and how that selection is consistent with both the letter and the spirit of NEPA? I would also appreciate an update on the status of requests made by interveners to have another contractor selected to perform the NEPA environmental assessments.
I appreciate your attention to this matter and I look forward to your timely responses to my questions.
United States Senator
cc: The Honorable Ms. Nancy Sutley, Chair, Council on Environmental Quality
Press ContactPress Office, (202) 224-5553
Next Article Previous Article