Itai Vardi

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Itai Vardi is a sociologist and freelance journalist. He lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts.

New Hampshire Climate Denier’s Work Has Powerful New Audience: His Brother, the Governor

Left, Michael Sununu. Right, Chris Sununu

Michael Sununu, a lobbyist, consultant, and businessman from New Hampshire, has for years been voicing doubt about the science behind human-induced climate change. Just last November, for instance, he claimed in an op-ed for a major New Hampshire newspaper that climate scientists “fudge the data for their agenda” as “Mother Nature is still driving climate change.”

With clients in the energy and utility sectors, it would perhaps be easy to dismiss Sununu’s views as interest-based and financially motivated. In the past he even led an energy start-up based on coal. 

But this vocal climate science denier is suddenly in a unique position to influence public policy. His brother, Chris Sununu, now occupies New Hampshire’s highest office — governor. 

Revealed: Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's Close Ties to Lobbyists For Spectra Energy, Whose Pipeline Projects He Backs

Bill Weld and Charlie Baker walking together in Baker's gubernatorial campaign video

There has been fierce opposition across Massachusetts to the natural gas pipeline projects of Spectra Energy — residents, campaigners, and politicians have been lining up to oppose the pipelines that will run across the state.

But none of this opposition has swayed the state's governor, Charlie Baker, who has consistently backed Spectra's plans.

However, DeSmog can reveal a cozy relationship between Baker and a lobbying company that has been working to push Spectra's plans through. Those ties run from publicly declared “love” between one lobbyist and Baker to a loaning of office space.

Despite Senate Inquiry into Potential Conflicts of Interest, FERC Approves Spectra Energy’s Atlantic Bridge Project

Protester at a rally wears a t-shirt that reads 'FERC wake up'

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved the construction of a new gas pipeline project, despite an ongoing inquiry by two U.S. senators into a possible conflict of interest in its environmental review. 

Senators Keep Heat on FERC, Raise New Concerns Over Conflicts of Interest in Spectra Gas Pipeline Project

Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren

In a January 5 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey demanded more answers on a possible conflict of interest in the environmental review of a Spectra Energy natural gas project.

This latest inquiry, the third in the past several months, was prompted by exclusive revelations by DeSmog that the contractor assisting FERC in the review was working for Spectra on a related project.

FERC Suggests Spectra Energy Gas Facility Would Not Pose Cancer Risk, Based on Study by Spectra Consultant

FERC office

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) concluded in an environmental assessment that a proposed Spectra Energy gas compressor station in a residential Massachusetts neighborhood would not increase the risk of cancer in nearby residents. 

However, it came to this conclusion via a questionable route — by citing a study done by a firm simultaneously working for Spectra.

Exposed: Husband of FERC Official Responsible for Reviewing New Spectra Energy Pipelines Consults On Related Spectra Project

Phil Suter, the spouse of Maggie Suter, an official at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) who led the review for two gas pipeline projects by Spectra Energy, is a paid consultant on a related Spectra project.

Experts on ethics in government regulatory bodies told DeSmog this case raises serious red flags, amounting to what appears to be a conflict of interest.

Suter should have, at the least, disclosed to FERC the conflict, and recused herself from these projects,” says Neil Gordon, an investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group monitoring money in politics.

*Maggie Suter informed FERC about CH-IV's work in both projects. In response, FERC removed her from the role of Project Manager in the Cove Point LNG project, but allowed her to remain on the reviewing team in a more limited role. FERC did not require Maggie Suter to recuse herself from reviewing the Atlantic Bridge project.* 

FERC Chairman Used Not-Yet-Published Guidelines to Deny Wrongdoing in Hiring of Contractor for Spectra Pipeline

FERC Chairman Norman Bay with people sitting behind him.

Responding to an inquiry by two U.S. senators, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) cited not-yet-published guidelines in an attempt to deny any missteps by the Commission in its past hiring of a contractor that reviewed a proposed gas pipeline.

As DeSmog first reported, that contractor potentially had a conflict of interest. 

Contractor Behind Positive Dakota Access Pipeline Environmental Assessment Was Working on Connecting Pipeline For Same Company

A private firm that conducted the environmental review for the highly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline was simultaneously working for Energy Transfer, the company behind the project, on a connecting pipeline.

A DeSmog investigation also found that during the review period, the firm — Perennial Environmental Services LLC (“Perennial”) — advocated for opening new regions for oil and gas drilling.

In 2014, Energy Transfer hired Perennial, a Houston-based environmental consultancy, to perform the Environmental Assessment (EA) for its then-proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, a four-state project that will carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region to Illinois.

Yet Perennial was already working at the time for another subsidiary company of Energy Transfer, Trunkline.

Revealed: Ex-FERC Commissioner’s Multiple Rulings Favored Energy Companies His Wife Lobbied For

Numerous rulings by a former Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) favored energy companies his lobbyist wife worked for at the time, a DeSmog investigation can reveal.

Philip Moeller left FERC in late 2015 after nearly ten years on the Commission.

Throughout his entire tenure, Moeller’s wife, Elizabeth Moeller, was employed as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Washington DC-based firm Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw & Pittman LLP (Pillsbury Winthrop).

According to internal FERC documents obtained by DeSmog, the Commission’s counsel repeatedly authorized Moeller to rule on matters concerning companies represented by his wife or others at Pillsbury Winthrop.

Exclusive: Documents Show FERC-hired Contractor Did Not Disclose Work on Related Spectra Pipeline in Atlantic Bridge Project

Documents filed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) show that a contractor hired by the government to provide an independent environmental assessment for Spectra Energy’s Atlantic Bridge project did not disclose its work for Spectra on a related gas pipeline. 

Natural Resource Group LLC (NRG) was hired by FERC as a third-party contractor in February 2015 to review Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge — a proposed expansion of its existing Algonquin Gas Pipeline that runs through the Northeast US.

Yet as DeSmog first reported, at the time NRG was already working directly for the proposed PennEast Pipeline LLC, a consortium of companies including Spectra, that plans to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Northeast markets. 

Now, according to conflict of interest disclosure documents obtained by DeSmog from FERC through a Freedom of Information Act request, it has emerged that while NRG acknowledged it was working at the time directly for Spectra on other projects, it did not include its work on PennEast. Spectra joined the PennEast consortium in October 2014 because the proposed pipeline will interconnect to its Algonquin Gas Pipeline, boosting its delivery capacities.

NRG thus seems to have had a financial stake in Atlantic Bridge — the project it was being asked by FERC to independently assess.

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