A U.S. Department of Energy official has told Senator Jeanne Shaheen that the federal agency did nothing wrong in approving several contractors to work on the Northern Pass project, dismissing allegations to the contrary from the Conservation Law Foundation.
Shaheen wrote the DOE in mid-October saying she was concerned about allegations made by the foundation.
The CLF said it used the Freedom-of-Information Act to obtain a series of emails between the federal agency and a lawyer for Northern Pass.
The foundation concluded those emails showed Northern Pass “handpicked” the contractor team that is going to be drafting the environmental impact statement.
In the October 18 letter Shaheen wrote “given the importance of public confidence in the objectivity of the application process, I believe a detailed response to these recent allegations is necessary.”
That response came this week in the form of a five-page letter from Patricia Hoffman, as assistant secretary at the DOE. She wrote that the federal agency acted properly and “is committed to conducting a rigorous and impartial environmental review,”
Hoffman said the DOE was independently considering several contractors and did not rely on Northern Pass to locate those finally chosen.
The environmental impact statement is a crucial part of the DOE’s consideration of whether to give Northern Pass the Presidential Permit required for the hydro-electric power to be brought into the U.S. from Canada.
The CLF said federal regulations make it clear that the DOE alone should select the contractor but it feels emails it obtained show that policy was not followed.
One email to the DOE officials is dated July 2011 and is from Northern Pass lawyer Mary Anne Sullivan:
“Northern Pass, after a thorough search, would like to recommend to DOE a team of SE Group, Ecology & Environment Inc., and Lucy Swartz to serve as the NEPA contractor for the Northern Pass Transmission Project. Taken together, we believe the team has strong, highly relevant expertise, and we believe they will work very effectively together as a team.”
Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton previously dismissed the conflict-of-interest assertions, saying the foundation was simply trying to stop a valuable and important project by delaying the approval process.
The previous contractor – Normandeau Associates of Bedford - also faced concerns over a conflict-of-interest. Last year Normandeau withdrew after it turned out the company was doing other work for the utility company.
Conservation Law Foundation official Christophe Courchesne said the DOE letter to Shaheen "does nothing to address the underlying problems we identified: Northern Pass’s overwhelming influence over the contractor selection process and the clear conflict of interest of the current contractor team that resulted."