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My Turn: How can we count on the Site Evaluation Committee?

Attempting to battle the Northern Pass project in New Hampshire is a continuous challenge. The influence of Public Service of New Hampshire appears to extend to certain media outlets, chambers of commerce, law firms, the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., a UNH survey, a number of legislators, previously the state Board of Real Estate Appraisers and, as we have discovered, the Site Evaluation Committee.

Last year, the state Senate passed SB 99, a bill calling for a review of and recommendations for the critically important Site Evaluation Committee. The outrage of residents at the hearing led to the inclusion of public participation in the process. Two hundred thousand dollars was apportioned for the review, yet proved to be insufficient. What did the taxpayers receive for this money?

We, the public, felt we finally had an opportunity to level the playing field. Surely this process would be above reproach, free of lobbyists and lawyers representing their clients, and we would have the opportunity to make a difference.

My optimism turned to outright anger when our first conference call was placed through the offices of Thomas Getz, an attorney/lobbyist representing Northern Pass and a co-chairman of the group. He was named co-chairman after our meeting, as verified by the Office of Energy and Planning website; the public participants were not present. (Future calls were also through his office.)

I participated on two working groups, Orderly Development and Aesthetics. Each conference call had almost as many industry representatives as public citizens. Our indignation over their participation was met with “the public deserves a say.”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, “public” means populace, the people as a whole, folks, humanity. Nowhere does it mention business or industry. Industry tried to make it an industry process with paid representatives attempting to shape rules and recommendations to their advantage. This should be a process concerned with the protection of New Hampshire and its residents, not one allowing industry to exploit New Hampshire.

It seemed obvious they were aware of their questionable status on the work groups as they attempted to remain anonymous. When forced to add their names to lists of call participants, they stated their names only. It took repeated questioning to compel them to add for whom they worked. One caller started out as a landscape architect from Maine. One comment seemed to foster the Northern Pass agenda, so I asked him who he was in addition to a landscape architect. He proceeded to repeat his position. I then asked what else he did. He finally admitted to having a consulting company.

After more questioning, I asked, exasperated, “Who is paying you to be on this call?” There was a long silence and he finally admitted Northern Pass. All were to identify themselves before speaking on a call, yet normally did not. They wanted neither their names nor their affiliations listed on the committee reports.

The majority of the industry representatives were employed by PSNH/Northeast Utilities. I do not feel lobbyists and lawyers working to promote a project to come before the SEC should be writing the rules by which their project will be judged.

Northern Pass speaks openly of filing an application with the SEC in late 2014 or early 2015. The clear conflict of interest between recommending rules good for the entire state of New Hampshire and recommending rules good for the Northern Pass should prohibit them from these working groups.

Legislators at hearings and work groups of bills have evaded important issues claiming the SEC will “take care of it.” Really?

(Dolly McPhaul lives in Sugar Hill.)

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