New England energy projects ignite a cross-country debate

Two proposed energy projects — a wind farm and a natural-gas terminal — would be built in New England. But lawmakers from across the country are bickering over their merits.

Both are years away from producing a spark of electricity, but they have already generated plenty of political heat that has brought more than $1 million to K Street and drawn the interest of lawmakers from New Hampshire to  Alaska.

Sen. Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican, stepped into the fight over a liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) terminal in far-away Fall River, Mass., Friday when he introduced a bill to remove a roadblock that members of the Massachusetts delegation had put into the highway bill approved last year.

The bill, which would encourage greater energy production and conservation would allow an old bridge that sits in the path that LNG tankers would travel to the terminal to be destroyed. The bridge was slated for destruction before Massachusetts members appropriated money to turn the bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle path.

“The important thing is that everyone in the nation needs to be concerned about high energy prices,” Thomas spokesman Cameron Hardy said. “Everyone should be doing what they can to increase supply.”

Supporters say the terminal has the potential to reduce prices for natural gas in New England by as much as 20 percent.

Hardy said Thomas was in the process of gathering co-sponsors and expected to discuss the bill at the members meeting last evening.

Massachusetts members and Sen. Jack Reed (D) from nearby Rhode Island quickly wrote a letter spelling out their concerns with the project.

The letter notes a Sandia National Laboratory study that found that while a terrorist attack on an LNG facility is a “low probability,” an explosion could cause injuries up to a mile away. There are up to 9,000 residents within a one-mile radius of the planned site, the letter notes.

“In the post-9/11 environment, building the LNG facility in this location does not make sense,” the letter states. In addition to Reed, the letter was signed by Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy and Reps. James McGovern and Barney Frank, all Massachusetts Democrats.

The company building the terminal has said it would use smaller ships that could slip by the narrow drawbridge. But doing so could raise costs, and the company has continued to lobby against the language that was added in the transportation bill.

Meanwhile the Cape Wind project to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound continues to generate political heat in Washington.

Opponents have been on the defensive after a provision was put into the Coast Guard reauthorization bill that would likely block development. Kennedy supported the addition, as did Alaska Republican Don Young, who directs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard.

A top Energy Department official last week sharply criticized the language, which would allow the Massachusetts governor, an opponent, to block the wind farm.

Six House members, including the powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton (R-Texas), wrote a “Dear Colleague” arguing that the Coast Guard provision would be a “major setback to the nation’s development of renewable energy and runs directly counter to the bipartisan efforts of Congress to reduce the use of foreign energy sources and to increase to our domestic energy use.”

An anti-wind-farm group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, struck back this week. The group is running advertisements in inside-the-Beltway publications (including this one) criticizing the addition of language to the Energy Act of 2005 that exempted the project from competitive bidding.

The exemption is “a significant special-interest provision,” said Audra Parker, of the Alliance.

She said the wind farm raises a number of safety issues that the Alliance believes have not been adequately addressed.

But a Democratic staffer on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee disputed the contention that the measure was some sort of sweetheart deal for Cape Wind.

The energy bill for the first time set policy for offshore renewable-energy development. One directive included that contracts must be competitively bid. However, the authors didn’t think it fair to require Cape Wind to bid for the project it had been working on since 2002.

The exemption also applies to a project in Long Island and potentially other renewable energy efforts off the coast of Louisiana, the source said.

Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the respective chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, jointly wrote a letter last week urging that the Cape Wind provision be taken out of the Coast Guard bill.

Both Cape Wind and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on K Street representation.

The Alliance has worked with three firms: Patton Boggs, O’Neill & Associates and Perkins Coie. It has spent more than $800,000 on lobbying since 2002, according to Senate records posted online.

Meanwhile, Oxbow Corp., which is owned by Alliance board member Bill Koch, has also hired Kessler and Associates Business Services, through a contract with U.S. Strategies, to lobby to block the wind farm.

Cape Wind, meanwhile, has hired Capitol City Consultants and Piper Rudnick. The energy company has spent $440,000 on lobbying, spokesman Mark Rodgers said.

Environmental groups have added their support as well.

Greenpeace, for example, has run advertisements in several Senate districts criticizing efforts to block the wind farm. The ads were run in New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Connecticut, Nevada and Rhode Island.

Steve Smith, a spokesman for the group, said the campaign has generated 11,000 e-mails and 20,000 faxes to Capitol Hill urging that the Cape Wind provision be removed from the Coast Guard reauthorization.

“This proposed project off the coast of Cape Cod is one of the most important fights we could be involved in as Greenpeace,” Smith said.

The Coast Guard bill has gone through conference committee and awaits a floor vote.