Itai Vardi

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

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.

Following DeSmog’s Revelations on Spectra Pipeline, MA Senators Demand More Answers from FERC on Alleged Conflict of Interest

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey demand new answers about an alleged conflict of interest in the environmental review of a proposed Spectra Energy natural gas pipeline project.

As DeSmog first reported, the Environmental Assessment (EA) for Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge project was carried out on FERC’s behalf by third-party contractor Natural Resource Group (NRG), which at the time was working directly for Spectra on a related pipeline, PennEast. Following these revelations, Sens. Warren and Markey demanded explanations from FERC Commissioner Norman Bay, urging him to issue a new and objective review for the project.

While Reviewing Spectra Energy Gas Pipeline Project, FERC Contractor Did Not Disclose Its Hiring by Spectra for Five Other Projects

In a potential conflict of interest, a contractor hired by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to review a proposed Spectra Energy natural gas pipeline project had already been working for the company it was reviewing on a different but interconnected pipeline. Spectra then directly hired the contractor, Natural Resource Group (NRG), for no fewer than five other projects during the review period.

These revelations raise questions about the contractor’s ability to impartially review Spectra’s application on behalf of the government regulator.

In June 2013, FERC approved the hiring of NRG as a third-party contractor to conduct a comprehensive environmental review for Spectra’s then-proposed Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project, a major capacity upgrade for its Algonquin Pipeline carrying fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New York and into New England.

While third-party contractors are paid by the pipeline company seeking FERC approval, they are considered independent analysts who work under the direct supervision of FERC staff.

Yet DeSmog has found that during the time of its hiring for AIM, NRG was providing environmental consulting services for two of Spectra’s pipeline testing and renewal projects on its Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline, which interconnects with the Algonquin Pipeline.

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