Patriot Ledger: Residents Debate FERC's Response to Senators

Chairman Bay of FERC recently responded to Senator Warren and Markey's letter inquiring about a possible conflict of interest with the group that conducted the EA for Atlantic Bridge. Unsurprisingly, Chairman Bay's response dismissed the conflict of interest. The Patriot Ledger covered the story.

You can read it here or below:

"WEYMOUTH – Opponents of a planned North Weymouth gas compressor station are bashing a federal agency’s response to allegations that its environmental review of the project was tainted by an outside contractor’s conflict of interest.

Norman Bay, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in a letter to U.S. Sen. Ed Markey that there was no conflict of interest identified for the contractor that did an environmental review of Spectra Energy’s proposal while also representing proponents of another linked pipeline project, of which Spectra is a part owner.

Markey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote to Bay in June questioning the impartiality of the contractor, Natural Resource Group, in its review of Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge project.

Bay said in his letter that the commission, which is known by the acronym FERC, has extensive procedures to vet third-party contractors for conflicts.

“It is my understanding that these procedures were followed with respect to the selection of the third-party contractor for the Atlantic Bridge Project, and no disqualifying conflict of interest was identified,” Bay wrote.

Pipeline opponents in Weymouth rejected Bay’s response.

“It’s junk,” Alice Arena, leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said. “FERC, sadly, is not going to do the right thing. They absolutely are going to do the wrong thing by the people every single time.”

The commission has final authority over whether Spectra can move ahead with plans to expand its pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. That plan includes a proposed 7,700-horsepower compressor station on the banks of the Fore River that’s sparked stiff opposition from elected officials and residents in Weymouth, Quincy and Braintree.

Spectra has announced plans for a second project, Access Northeast, that would more than double the horsepower of the compressor station and add four miles of pipe in Weymouth and Braintree.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, said the response bolsters criticism that FERC’s approval process is stacked in favor of utility companies.

“It’s unfortunate that FERC continues to go down this road of essentially unilaterally deciding on these projects without regard to conflicts of interest or safety or tremendous public opposition,” said O’Connor, who is also the Weymouth Town Council president.

Andrea Honore, of the group Families Against Spectra, also blasted Bay’s response.

“It’s so vague,” she said. “It’s just a total brush-off.”

Aides to Warren and Markey said the senators are not satisfied with Bay’s response and plan to follow up with FERC.

Compressor stations are placed along underground pipelines to keep them pressurized so the gas keeps flowing. Spectra says the facility would be safe but opponents say the facility could vent toxic gasses, explode or become a target for terrorism in the middle of dense residential and industrial areas.

FERC hired Natural Resource Group to complete an environmental assessment of Spectra’s proposal that found the project would not significantly affect neighbors’ health or safety. Meanwhile, Natural Resource Group was also doing “public outreach and relations” work for PennEast Pipeline Co., according to a document the company filed with FERC in 2014.

Spectra owns a 10 percent stake in the PennEast pipeline, which would run from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, where Spectra’s Algonquin Pipeline begins.

Bay wrote that generally FERC doesn’t consider a contractor to have a conflict of interest if less than 1 percent of its business for the current and preceding years is connected to a party that could be affected by the work in question. The commission has rejected other contractors eight times in the past 15 months due to disqualifying conflicts, he wrote.

Christian Schiavone may be reached at or follow him on Twitter @CSchiavo_Ledger."