The U.S. Department of Energy did nothing wrong in hiring three consultants recommended by Northern Pass, said a spokeswoman for the agency.
Wednesday the Conservation Law Foundation said documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed a lawyer for Northern Pass recommended the firms to conduct a crucial environmental impact statement.
And the agency wrongly hired them.
The environmental impact statement is a pivotal part of the agency’s consideration of whether to grant Northern Pass a Presidential Permit.
That permit allows energy to be brought into the United States from Canada. Without that approval the project cannot proceed.
The Department of Energy followed all the proper guidelines in hiring the firms, said Niketa Kumar, the spokeswoman.
“There is a very independent process,” she said.
The law foundation argues federal regulations say the agency alone must select the contractor.
Kumar said that is what happened.
“The final decision for selecting a contractor is DOE’s alone to make,” she said.
And she said it was not inappropriate to have Northern Pass involved because applicants are allowed to help identify contractors with “the right expertise and skills.”
Kumar said DOE considered other applicants, although she declined to identify them.
Accepting the recommendation of Northern Pass raises a conflict-of-interest problem because those firms now owe their assignment to Northern Pass, the Conservation Law Foundation asserts.
The firms are also paid by Northern Pass.
But Kumar said before hiring the firms DOE officials carefully checked their credentials for any conflict-of-interest issues.
The Conservation Law Foundation has asked the DOE to dismiss the three contractors and hire another firm, saying there is no reason to have faith in the process.
Asked whether DOE was considering that request Kumar would only say the agency is considering all of the roughly 1,800 comments the public has sent to the agency.
Northern Pass has dismissed the Conservation Law Foundation's complaint saying the organization is simply trying to delay a project it opposes.