Maine memo fuels
more debate over
Mark Reynolds, Providence Journal
Staff Writer, 9/15/2004
*The developer of the proposed
Fall River natural gas facility calls accusations that he was
planning to bypass Massachusetts regulators "flat-out untrue."
FALL RIVER -- A memo written
last spring by a Maine state official suggests that the developer
pursuing an unpopular liquefied natural gas shipping port in
Fall River once planned to make an end run around state and local
The developer, Gordon Shearer, denies such a plan and says federal
guidelines basically force LNG developers to comply with local
regulations. "The federal government does not have carte
blanche authority to simply overturn local permitting,"
Shearer, of Weaver's Cove Energy and Hess LNG, said in an interview
yesterday afternoon. "It's just not true," he said.
"It's just flat-out untrue."
But opponents of the project
are rallying around the memo, which characterizes an alleged
conversation between Shearer and Citizens Energy president Joseph
P. Kennedy II. They say the note speaks to the corruption of
a federal permitting process that leaves Fall River vulnerable
to a dangerous and unwanted energy project. The memo, obtained
yesterday by The Journal, also documents the LNG interests of
Massachusetts-based Citizens Energy, a nonprofit that supplies
gas and oil to the poor.
Joseph Carvalho, chairman of the Coalition for the Responsible
Siting of LNG Terminals, downloaded the note from a Web site
last week. He recited the memo for officials with the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission who are reviewing the proposal to
build a shipping port capable of receiving large quantities of
LNG from tankers about 50 to 70 times a year.
Yesterday, The Journal confirmed
the authenticity of the memo with officials in Maine. Dick Davies,
an energy adviser to Maine Gov. John Baldacci, wrote the note
in an internal communication to the governor on May 14, after
a discussion with Kennedy. Most of what he reported had to do
with the potential development of an LNG shipping facility in
Maine, including the possibility that Citizens' Energy might
pursue such a project in the state. But Davies also reported
that Kennedy told him his friend, Shearer, is working on another
project and "planning to bypass local and state approvals
by going directly to [the regulatory commission] and seeking
their preemption of local and state reviews and permits."
Davies also wrote that Kennedy was uncertain about the commission's
"preemption authority" and that Maine should have a
lawyer study the issue.
"It may prove true that [the regulatory commission] can
just ram a project through despite community objections,"
Kennedy declined to comment
on his alleged talks with Shearer and Davies.
(Citizens Energy officials
confirmed that the nonprofit has an interest in LNG and might
pursue a terminal project, but they also emphasized that Citizens
Energy is not working on any specific LNG proposals right now.)
Shearer said he remembered
a conversation with Kennedy, but he could not recall when it
took place. Federal "preemption" doesn't happen unless
state and local authorities take an action that's inconsistent
with an action taken by the federal government, Shearer said.
The authority of local and
state agencies over the LNG permitting process came into question
several times in recent months as federal regulators performed
a tentative evaluation of the development proposal, giving it
a favorable review. In general, federal rules are supposed to
hold projects to local laws and zoning ordinances. But federal
requirements take precedent in any conflict between federal and
local requirements, according to information posted on the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission Web site. The regulators' tentative
review of the project reveals several such disagreements. For
example, state fisheries officials have urged that developers
sequence their dredging of the Taunton River to accommodate the
needs of the local flounder population. Such timing is required
by a Massachusetts state law that governs waterways, according
to Carol Wasserman, a consultant to the city of Fall River. During
their tentative review of the project, federal regulators rejected
any such delays in dredging, determining that halting dredging
could delay construction up to a year and cost Weaver's Cove
Carvalho noted yesterday that
the regulators' tentative determination on the issue lines up
with the expectations that Shearer allegedly mentioned to Kennedy.
"I think it's outrageous," he said. "Absolutely
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