In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey demand new answers about an alleged conflict of interest in the environmental review of a proposed Spectra Energy natural gas pipeline project.
As DeSmog first reported, the Environmental Assessment (EA) for Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge project was carried out on FERC’s behalf by third-party contractor Natural Resource Group (NRG), which at the time was working directly for Spectra on a related pipeline, PennEast. Following these revelations, Sens. Warren and Markey demanded explanations from FERC Commissioner Norman Bay, urging him to issue a new and objective review for the project.
FERC Commissioner Norman Bay responded by detailing the procedure by which FERC chooses third-party contractors and vets candidates for conflicts. “It is my understanding that these procedures were followed with respect to the selection of the third party contractor for the Atlantic Bridge project, and no disqualifying conflict of interest was identified,” he wrote.
Responding to the Senators’ general inquiry on the number of conflicts identified in recent years by FERC, Bay mentioned that the Commission identified eight such conflicts in the past 15 months. In those cases, potential third-party contractors were disqualified.
But Warren and Markey are unsatisfied with Bay’s response, and now want more specific answers on the hiring of NRG to review Atlantic Bridge.
They write in the follow-up letter:
“Did Spectra or NRG disclose any potential conflicts of interest to FERC? If not, did FERC conduct an independent review to determine whether claims that no conflict of interest exist were valid in this instance?”
The Massachusetts Senators also want to know on what basis were the eight potential contractors recently disqualified and whether these were based on financial conflicts.
While Spectra Energy has repeatedly ignored DeSmog’s requests for comment on this story, the company has recently written to FERC in response to concerns raised by Massachusetts residents on the alleged conflict of interest in Atlantic Bridge.
In its response, Spectra essentially confirmed the facts of DeSmog’s investigation – but said that FERC ultimately reviewed and approved the hiring of NRG as third-party contractor. Spectra also minimized its direct involvement with NRG in the PennEast Pipeline, saying it is a minority owner in the consortium pursuing the project.
“Spectra Energy is not responsible for managing the PennEast project, which would include coordination with NRG regarding public affairs work for the PennEast project,” the company wrote.
These developments come amidst new revelations by DeSmog on a potential conflict of interest in a related Spectra project, Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM).
NRG, which also performed the Environmental Impact Statement for AIM, was working for Spectra at the time of its hiring by FERC as third-party contractor. During the review of AIM, Spectra then hired NRG directly for no less than five other of its projects, potentially incentivizing the contractor to provide a beneficial assessment for AIM.
FERC went on to approve AIM, which is currently under construction.