As Spectra Energy was seeking state permits for its natural gas projects running though Massachusetts, company lobbyists maintained a close and ongoing relationship with top state environmental officials, according to emails obtained exclusively by DeSmog through an open records request.
Since 2012, Spectra has advanced three upgrade projects on its Algonquin pipeline in the northeast U.S. All three — Algonquin Incremental Market, Atlantic Bridge, and Access Northeast — traverse Massachusetts and require various state permits to proceed.
While the Algonquin Incremental Market project received all federal and state permits and became operational late last year, Atlantic Bridge still has permits pending in Massachusetts. Access Northeast has been put on hold as its partners craft new funding schemes.
“I hope you had a great trip to Disney!”
Emails from the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) demonstrate that in the past two years, Spectra lobbyists had close ties to state officials with authority to provide key permits. Lobbyists held several meetings with the officials and maintained direct phone and email access.
The most frequent contacts occurred between Tom McShane, a veteran lobbyist for Dewey Square Group, and two important state environmental officials: the state’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Matthew Beaton, and his undersecretary, Ned Bartlett. Both Beaton and Bartlett were appointed in early 2015 by incoming republican governor, Charlie Baker.
McShane, who previously served as Massachusetts’ Undersecretary of Environmental Affairs, has been representing Spectra from at least 2013.
An email from mid-April 2015 shows how easily McShane secured meetings with Bartlett. “I hope you had a great trip to Disney!” McShane wrote to the undersecretary. “I need to ask if I can bring John Sheridan from Spectra in to see you … Can you squeeze John and I in?”
Sheridan is Spectra Energy’s in-house lobbyist in the northeast region. McShane copied on the email an assistant, who “was helping you out last time I asked.”
From Spectra lobbyist Tom McShane’s email to Massachusetts EEA Undersecretary Ned Bartlett, requesting a meeting.
Other emails suggest that on several occasions McShane and Bartlett shared information on the gas pipeline projects.
In March 2016, apparently following a query from Bartlett to McShane on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) scheduling of scoping meetings in the state, the lobbyist responded to the undersecretary by saying “Ned — I did some digging and I wanted to get to you before noon.” After explaining why FERC scheduled the meetings as it did, McShane suggested a method by which the state can ask for more meetings. “Let me know if you need or want anything further,” he added.
Three months later, McShane forwarded to Bartlett a press release by the mayor of Weymouth, where construction of a controversial new gas compressor station is planned as part of the Atlantic Bridge project. In the release, Mayor Bob Hedlund was critical of the state’s environmental officials for refusing to conduct a broad impacts report on Spectra’s projects. In his forwarded message to the undersecretary, McShane added “FYI.”
Providing Exclusive Information
In other emails, Spectra lobbyists inform Beaton and Bartlett of Spectra’s future plans before they are made public, presumably giving the officials a sense of having access to exclusive information.
In August 2016, following the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to disallow the Access Northeast partnership to fund the project by taxing consumers — a plan originally approved by Governor Baker’s administration — McShane emailed Bartlett, referencing a message he left on Bartlett’s phone.
McShane wrote that despite the decision, the “need for more gas … still exists.” The lobbyist added: “Since you and the Secretary (and the Governor) have been so thoughtful on this issue I wanted to make sure you and the Secretary know where we are at.”
A day later McShane emailed Bartlett an unsent letter from the Access Northeast partnership to policymakers, in which the companies behind the project declare their intention to continue pursuing the project. After McShane wrote that he wanted Bartlett and Secretary Beaton “to have it first,” Bartlett copied Secretary Beaton on the email conversation.
A few months later, McShane emailed Bartlett, again referencing a voicemail left for him. The lobbyist expressed his wish to talk with the undersecretary about Spectra’s plans for the Access Northeast project. He informed Bartlett of Spectra’s upcoming statement to FERC on its plan to continue with the project. “If you have any questions, call me,” McShane ended.
In September 2016, McShane called and emailed Bartlett to inform him of Spectra’s purchase by Canadian energy giant Enbridge. Jon Bonsall, a Spectra lobbyist from the firm Keegan Werlin, emailed Beaton directly in February 2017 to notify him of the deal’s completion.
Mocking an Opponent to the Compressor Station
In January this year, McShane forwarded Undersecretary Bartlett an email between two other Spectra lobbyists. In the email, Bonsall had sent to the company’s in-house lobbyist Sheridan a brief description from a Spectra employee about a gas leak that occurred the night before in the company’s metering station in Weymouth.
Bonsall wrote to Sheridan, “Everything worked as it should but still not helpful,” suggesting Spectra anticipated a negative PR fallout following the leak. Bonsall then added: “Becky will love this!” This appears to be a snarky reference to Becky Haugh, a Weymouth town councilwoman who’s been a critical opponent of the plan to build the gas compressor station in town.
Evidently, McShane felt comfortable enough forwarding this conversation between other Spectra lobbyists directly to Bartlett, even though it included a mocking comment about an elected representative’s position on the project.
From an email sent from Spectra lobbyist McShane to Undersecretary Bartlett, where a Weymouth councilwoman opposing the compressor station is presumably mocked.
When reached for comment, Haugh had the following response:
“I’ve sat through numerous meetings about the proposed Weymouth compressor station where Mr. Bonsall and Spectra representatives touted the impeccable safety record and the importance of safety on the Algonquin system. I find it quite alarming that a significant gas leak in a heavily residential area, which went undetected in Spectra’s computerized system, is being nonchalantly dismissed by the very man who came before the Weymouth Town Council and bragged about Spectra’s concern over safety in their host communities. To insinuate that I, as a local elected leader, would be happy about a natural gas leak in my own neighborhood, rather than actually focusing on the problem and lack of controls Spectra has with its existing infrastructure proves that safety is not a priority.”
Lobbyists Have Access Denied to Massachusetts Residents
According to state lobbying disclosures, Spectra paid Dewey Square Group $125,000 in 2015 for its services. Since 2013 Keegan Werlin received over $150,000 from Spectra for its lobbying efforts.
As DeSmog previously reported, individuals working for another of Spectra’s Massachusetts lobbying firms, ML Strategies, have close ties to Governor Baker. The firm’s parent company, the law firm of Mintz Levin, has been providing legal and permitting services for Spectra. At the same time, Baker’s political campaign has recently employed the legal services of Mintz Levin.
And while Spectra’s lobbyists have easy access to top state officials, others have found it hard to gain the attention of key policymakers. As previously reported, Weymouth resident Andrea Honore has been sitting in Governor Baker’s office for over 40 consecutive days in an attempt to convince him to actively oppose the gas compressor project in her town. Honore has yet to receive a meeting with the governor.
A spokesperson for the Massachusetts EEA did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Spectra lobbyists Tom McShane and Jon Bonsall.
Main image: Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton speaking in 2016. Credit: Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, CC BY–NC 2.0