A recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision on an LNG pipeline gives reason for hope that the Trump administration may not spoil all of America’s wildernesses. The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just put the brakes on for an Atlantic Coast Pipeline natural gas project set to cross under the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. The news bids us to look with closer scrutiny at how the Trump administration’s various agencies are operating.
According to the news from S&P Global, an LNG pipeline being built to deliver Appalachian supply through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina had already been rubber stamped by the U.S. National Park Service, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d pipeline project has come under heavy fire from environmental groups because of the delicate ecology and touristic aspects it would affect. The Court of Appeals called the NPS rubber stamp on the project “particularly troubling,” especially given the Nation Park Service’s own studies on visual impacts to views from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The court also held suspect the Fish and Wildlife Service permit one day after the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called a half to Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction. The larger question remains, “Why did the U.S. agencies allow for construction in the first place?”
The pipeline faces staunch opposition from groups like Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, and locals in affected states. As for the court’s ruling, Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote his opinion that the park service’s issuance of the permit was “arbitrary and capricious” for invoking laws that weren’t applicable, and for not explaining how approval was consistent with its mission. Looking at the “capriciousness” of the situation we find the main beneficiary of the pipeline, the Duke Energy investor.
Not too many months back Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good informed investors that the cost of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline has swelled to more than $6 billion, up from the original price tag of $5 billion. She cited regulatory delays like this most recent one invoked by the U.S. Court of Appeals, as cause for the bulging price tag. Good, who is one of the most highly compensated executives in America ($21 million plus annually as of 2017), is also on the board of directors of Boeing.
As for the U.S. agencies giving Duke Energy the “all clear” without so much as reasonable scrutiny, the more than $2.5 million a year the company uses to retain lobbying firms is a part explanation. Alpine Group, one of Duke’s top government influencers, is also retained by big dealers like Berkshire Hathaway, Blackstone, Vistra Energy, Walmart, Nike, and so on. Alpine Group government relations makes no bones about their location on Capital Hill in Washington, or
“The Alpine Group’s offices are located on Capitol Hill, only a few blocks from the House and Senate office buildings and the U.S. Capitol. Even in an era of electronic communication, there remains no substitute to being in the corridors of power each day working with elected officials and their staff.”
Digging deeper, Alpine Group President Rhod Shaw was the lobbyist for Houston based Dynegy Inc. (formerly Natural Gas Clearinghouse), during the timeframe Dynegy, Enron, El Paso Corporation, Reliant Energy, and several other energy companies were accused of fraud during California electricity crisis. In 2003, the only year Shaw was employed there, the charges against Dynergy were dropped. Enron eventually went bankrupt after a $1.52 billion settlement with a group of California agencies and private utilities. Shaw’s ties in Washington are not on public display but he is linked to the senior Democratic Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown on environmental matters. Alpine’s other lobbyists seem to be employed based on their affiliations with politicians like Representative Nathan Deal, Representative Anna Eshoo, Representative Dennis Eckart, to name just a few. Shaw is one of the biggest campaign contributors among lobbyist in Washington. He’s also worked with various politicians on key environmental legislation according to The Hill. The deal on Shaw’s influence can best be cemented by a quote from a report entitled “The Bankrollers,” from Public Citizen Congress Watch:
“James Massie’s Alpine Group was so successful at winning favorable treatment from the House Energy and Commerce Committee that Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) once singled out the firm during a hearing by demanding its members raise their hands and identify themselves. The committee ended up approving an amendment that loosened the constraints on exporting bomb-grade uranium, a measure previously rejected amid criticism by members of both parties that it would accelerate the worldwide proliferation of nuclear materials. The amendment was supported by the Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals (CRR), which has paid the Alpine Group more than $2.9 million in lobbying fees since 1998.”
Duke Power’s bid to complete this multi-billion-dollar pipeline through the Blue Ridge hinges on a balance of power bought and paid for on the one hand and appointed on the other. The “buck stops” in the halls of power at the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and subsequently with P. Daniel Smith, who’s the interim Director of the U.S. Park Service serving the Donald Trump administration. Luckily for the American people the power of “appointed” judges seems to have served us through Judge Roger Gregory, who was appointed by former presidents Clinton and Bush. Since federal judges are appointed for life conservationists and those interesting in preserving the scenic and value of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway have been served well by our system.
Let’s just hope this “balance” serves to save the rest of our legacy against the seemingly insurmountable influence of investment money.