Legality of Northern Pass EIS questionable – environmental advocacy group

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) on Oct. 9 filed comments with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability requesting “major changes” to the environmental review process for the Northern Pass transmission project.

In an effort to ensure that a review of the project is conducted in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, CLF requested DOE documents last year relating to the environmental impact statement (EIS) of Northern Pass Transmission’s (NPT) proposal to build a high-voltage transmission line connecting New Hampshire to Quebec.

After a review of those documents, CLF said it had concerns about the “fairness, integrity, and legality of DOE’s process to date.”

CLF made two requests in its filing.

First, CLF recommended that the contractor team preparing the project’s EIS be replaced with a new contractor or “qualified DOE team with no conflict of interest, and without NPT’s involvement.”

A requirement that contractors be chosen by the lead agency obligates DOE, at a minimum, to conduct the selection of a contractor without the applicant’s influence.

“NPT took on a much broader role in the selection of the current EIS contractor team in violation of regulations and guidance,” CLF said in the filing. “Indeed, with the selection of a contractor team identified and personally assembled by NPT’s counsel … it does not appear that DOE undertook a meaningful independent search of its own and instead requested that NPT conduct a search on DOE’s behalf.”

Second, CLF recommended that DOE “change course – now.”

In the filing, CLF suggested several changes to the environmental review process that it believes would ensure an open and impartial evaluation of the Northern Pass application, including provision of at least three additional scoping hearings in New Hampshire and a 90-day comment period following release of full route details.

“In light of NPT’s failure to piece together a northernmost route,” CLF said, “DOE has ample time to start again, with a more open and objective approach that would help to rebuild the public’s confidence in this important permitting process.”