In Depth: Connecticut Political Opposition to LNG a Battleground in Northeast Energy War

With only one week left before the 2006 midterm elections, the proposed Broadwater liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal has become a political whipping boy for Connecticut Congressional candidates from both sides of the aisle.

If approved, the joint venture between Shell and TransCanada – a floating storage regasification unit approximately 1200 feet long – would be built in New York waters in the Long Island Sound, eleven miles from Connecticut’s coast.  It would be supplied by large ocean-going tankers sailing through the Sound up to three times weekly.  Though moored to the seabed, Broadwater would be the largest vessel Long Island Sound has ever seen.

With few legal measures for Connecticut officials to oppose the plan under existing federal law, candidates have reverted to a safe, not-in-my-backyard posture, foregoing a debate on the facts for a parade of LNG horribles.

Indeed, the experience of Connecticut this election year has been emblematic of the political battles waged over LNG infrastructure from New Jersey to Maine, pitting the economic, environmental and cultural significance of the region’s marine habitats against the undeniable need for new sources of energy.

Legal and Extra-legal Buttons

Despite Broadwater’s proposed location in New York waters, Connecticut wields both legal and extra-legal influence over the siting approval process, for and as the political dialogue on LNG terminals.  Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell repeatedly has asked Broadwater to submit a coastal zone consistency certification pursuant to a state program created under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), but the state has yet to receive a certification from Broadwater.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal subsequently petitioned to intervene under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) in the review process managed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  Intervener status would give the state standing to require FERC to reevaluate portions of the proposal, or to sue in federal court.

Rell also issued an Executive Order to establish a task force charged with emergency planning and assessing the environmental and economic impacts of Broadwater.  Connecticut may also retain legal rights under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act that could halt Broadwater’s development.

But because almost all of these legal buttons lie within the purview of state officials alone, federal officials and candidates have begun pushing a number of extra-legal buttons in hopes of scoring points with voters in November.  In 2005, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, and Republican Congressman Christopher Shays held a press conference to formally oppose Broadwater.  While Rob Simmons, the Republican incumbent from Connecticut’s Second District, declined to participate in the press conference, he issued vaguely anti-Broadwater statements through a spokesperson.

In February 2006, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, who also was invited to the 2005 press conference but declined, held his own press conference similarly decrying the project.  Lieberman’s Democratic opponent in the September primaries, Ned Lamont, also made strong statements opposing Broadwater and highlighted Lieberman’s support for the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

In March 2006, every member of the Connecticut Congressional delegation, including Simmons, announced his or her opposition to the project at a Citizens Campaign for the Environment press conference.  Since then, almost every federal candidate running opposed in November has encountered a like-minded opponent who also urges the defeat of the Broadwater proposal.

“The Good Ship NIMBY”

Simply put, every candidate for Congress in Connecticut opposes Broadwater, and every candidate has articulated the same reason for that opposition: The solution to Connecticut’s mounting energy supply problems should be located far away from the Sound, and preferably out of state.  Attorney General Blumenthal, reciting a laundry list of environmental and security threats posed by LNG facilities in general, has indicated support for facilities located in New Jersey.

Federal officials and candidates have taken their cues from Blumenthal, opposing Broadwater but supporting various other proposals in the Northeast.  For example, Shays, an early Broadwater opponent, has unequivocally stated “I support the use of liquefied natural gas as a viable means to increase our energy supply.”  DeLauro, another early Broadwater opponent, has said, “We don’t have our head in the sand.  We understand the need for additional energy resources [and] infrastructure.”

One reason for this uniform position is that, as one recent editorial in the Providence Journal put it, “the good ship NIMBY is a formidable craft, and you need know nothing about science, engineering, or economics to join the crew.”  There is no doubt that NIMBY is especially seaworthy in an election year, because “[i]t is politically easier and more rewarding in the short run to raise hysteria than do the hard work of meeting the region’s energy needs.”

Soundbites, Not Substance

While the outcome of almost all of Connecticut’s six Congressional elections remains in doubt, it is clear that as the candidates from both parties race to distance themselves from Broadwater, the future of LNG in the Northeast will be rocked in the wake of their rhetoric.  Below is a sampling of what candidates have had to say on the issue.

· Lamont:  Discussing the EPAct 2005, Lamont noted that “[I]t takes away Connecticut’s authority when it comes to the siting of the LNG … that means they can potentially put this 5-story structure out in the middle of Long Island Sound and Connecticut has no say about that and I think that would be an environmental disaster.”

· Lieberman: “Approval of the facility would remove forever a portion of the Sound from the public trust … and its operations would impact the commercial and recreational uses already provided by the Sound.  I simply cannot support this project.”  Lieberman, it should be noted, was the only Northeastern Senate Democrat to vote for EPAct, leading one commentator to call Lieberman’s current position on Broadwater an “election-year flip-flop.”

· Simmons: “[T]here are safer and more secure ways of meeting Connecticut’s energy needs.”

· Joe Courtney, Simmons’ well-heeled Democratic challenger who managed to outraise the incumbent in the first quarter of 2006:  Broadwater will threaten the “ecology, economy and history of the Sound[,]” and  FERC “prevents Connecticut … from making a determination [on Broadwater] using their own standards of public safety and environmental protection.”  The Second District is possibly the most Democratic district in the country with a Republican incumbent.

· Shays: “I am concerned about the potential negative environmental and safety consequences an LNG facility would have on the Sound.”  Broadwater “would cost more, in terms of environmental impact, than it would benefit our local energy needs.”  The Sound “is our Yellowstone.”

· Diane Farrell , Democratic challenger to Shays who outraised him in the first quarter and remains just barely behind Shays in total fundraising; in 2004, Shays narrowly defeated Farrell, winning 52% of the vote: “It is unfathomable to me that we are going to come up with a new technology that is going to be put into some of the most densely populated areas in the United States.”

· John Larson , Democratic incumbent from the First District: “GOP now stands for gas, oil and petroleum and we’re out to make a change.”

· DeLauro: “Our regulatory process will be completely bypassed.  Connecticut will have nothing to say in this effort.”  “[O]ver the last few years, we’ve witnessed a creeping industrialization of the Long Island Sound,” which “is at the very heart of our region’s history … We have a responsibility to ensure its protection and preservation.”

Given these positions, Representative Joe Barton (R – Tex.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has lamented that “the energy policy of some states and localities in the chilly Northeast seems to be: ‘Let us freeze in the dark.’ ”  Surely there are legitimate, substantive debates to be had concerning Broadwater and other LNG facilities proposed for the Northeast.  But without both sides of the issue being articulated by federal candidates, these debates, by definition, are not happening.

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LNGLawBlog would like to thank Summer Associate Ben Norris for his work on this piece. For more information, please contact David Wochner or Rebecca Day.

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