Itai Vardi

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

Trump’s New FERC Commissioner Rob Powelson Accepted Gifts from Energy Industry as State Regulator

Robert Powelson during FERC commissioner nomination hearing in Senate

Robert Powelson, President Donald Trump’s newly appointed commissioner to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), received both gifts and reimbursements for travel, lodging, and hospitality from the energy and utility sectors in his previous position as a state regulator. He will now regulate those sectors at the federal level.

Powelson, a Republican, began his tenure at FERC last week. Documents and emails recently uncovered by the Energy & Policy Institute, a watchdog monitoring attacks on renewable energy, indicate that he maintained a close relationship with industry groups as a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Virginia Agency May Not Have Properly Vetted Contractor Reviewing Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality building

At the end of June, DeSmog revealed that a contractor hired by the state of Virginia to review elements of the proposed Atlantic Coast gas pipeline is currently working for Dominion, the company leading the pipeline project. Recently obtained documents and emails from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) indicate that, prior to DeSmog’s reporting, the agency was not aware of this relationship between the contractor, EEE Consulting, and Dominion, despite a contract with strict stipulations intended to avoid conflicts of interest.

A Week After Leaving FERC, Former Commissioner Honorable Joins Firm Lobbying for Company Behind Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Only one week after leaving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), former commissioner Colette Honorable has joined a law firm lobbying for Dominion Energy, the company behind the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Honorable is joining Reed Smith LLP, a firm lobbying in the state of Virginia for Dominion, the energy giant leading the proposed natural gas project. The Atlantic Coast pipeline, a 550-mile three-state line, still requires FERC’s approval.

Virginia lobbying disclosures show that Reed Smith has been lobbying for Dominion since at least 2015. The firm has so far assigned three lobbyists to work on Dominion’s behalf: William Thomas, Jeffrey Palmore, and Edward Mullen.

Honorable, a Democrat, was appointed as FERC commissioner by former President Obama in August 2014. Previously she served as chairperson of the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Reed Smith hired Honorable as a partner in its international energy & natural resources practice.

As DeSmog previously reported, Honorable has ties to a senior executive at Southern Company, a minority stakeholder in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

While Reviewing Enbridge’s Line 5 for Michigan, Contractor Worked for Same Pipeline Company in Minnesota

Workers remove Enbridge oil pipeline section in Michigan in 2010

A private contractor hired by the state of Michigan to assess an Enbridge oil pipeline running under the Great Lakes was working simultaneously for the company on a related pipeline, a DeSmog investigation has found.

The contractor, Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc., is leading one of two studies commissioned last year by Michigan to provide a risk assessment for Enbridge’s 64-year old Line 5 pipeline, which crosses the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet.

These revelations come two weeks after Michigan terminated the work of the contractor conducting the second study after discovering that one of its team members was working at the same time for Enbridge on a different project.

Contractor Hired by Virginia DEQ to Review Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Works for Dominion

Atlantic Coast pipeline protesters

As part of its review of Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast pipeline, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently hired a private contractor to assess several elements of the project. 

DeSmog has found, however, that the contractor is currently working for Dominion on an unrelated project.

Exclusive: PA Lawmaker Working to Curb Pipeline Protestors Tied to Shadow Lobbyists for Company Behind Project

A recent intensification in protests against Williams Partners’ planned Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania prompted a state senator to propose legislation aimed at limiting demonstrations.

Last month, Pennsylvania Republican Senator Scott Martin announced his intention to introduce legislation that would pass the costs of law enforcement responding to protests onto the demonstrators. Martin also helped introduce a different bill that would criminalize protests at natural gas facilities. 

A DeSmog investigation has found, however, that Martin is intimately tied to an obscure group of lobbyists recently hired by Williams Partners.

In Atlantic Coast Pipeline Battle, Dominion Hires Democratic PR Firm That Created Ads for Virginia Governor

Terry McAuliffe

Dominion Energy, the lead company behind the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline, last year hired SKDKnickerbocker, a powerful communications and Democratic consulting firm that previously produced campaign ads for Virginia’s Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, according to a DeSmog investigation. 

McAuliffe, a long-time ally of the Clinton family and former head of the Democratic National Committee, has been a staunch supporter of the controversial natural gas pipeline since it was first proposed in 2014.

Massachusetts Admits to 'Regularly' Allowing Companies to Edit Draft Pollution Permits

Protesters hold signs in the parking lot outside the Massachusetts DEP office

Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) acknowledged they regularly allow energy companies to exclusively preview and revise draft permits as a matter of common practice.

This admission follows DeSmog’s reporting on emails showing the state had quietly provided Spectra Energy (now Enbridge) several opportunities to edit a draft pollution approval permit for a compressor station in the town of Weymouth as part of its Atlantic Bridge gas project.

Massachusetts Let Spectra Energy Secretly Edit its Pollution Permit in Atlantic Bridge Gas Project

Open house poster showing a Spectra Energy map of its Atlantic Bridge and other pipeline projects

Massachusetts environmental officials allowed Spectra Energy to quietly review and edit a draft approval of an air pollution permit the state plans to grant the company for its Atlantic Bridge gas project. 

According to emails obtained by DeSmog through an open records request, this privilege of reviewing and editing the draft approval was granted exclusively to Spectra and not to the general public.   

Emails Show Spectra Lobbyists Cozy With Top Massachusetts Environmental Officials

Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton speaking

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. 

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