Tag Archives: PATH

PATH Contractor Investigated for Defrauding Taxpayers

A New Jersey construction firm that exploited its close ties to the Cheney-Bush Administration to win massive war contracts is under investigation by the Justice Department for over-billing taxpayers for work in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The company, the Louis Berger Group, is also a major contractor on the controversial, coal-by-wire Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH).  AP reports:

Louis Berger has been a major player in U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, now leading a $1.4 billion USAID infrastructure project to build roads and power plants in Afghanistan.

This has come to light because of a suit filed by the nephew of the company’s founder who claims he is being forced out by the federal prosecutors:

Prosecutors acknowledged their ongoing criminal and civil investigations in response to a federal lawsuit filed last week by Derish Wolff, chairman of Louis Berger’s parent company Berger Group Holdings. Wolff is attempting to block efforts to have his nearly one-third ownership stake in the company held in escrow following his resignation, which he argues was forced as part of the company’s negotiations to end the federal investigations.

AP notes that Louis Berger’s government service included “a $305 million diesel plant outside Kabul that tripled in cost and was delivered more than a year behind schedule…”

Louis Berger’s problems are not new:

Louis Berger’s performance on a 2002 USAID contract to build dozens of schools and health clinics in Afghanistan came under fire after some work had to be redone and the company was accused of submitting fraudulent work claims, according to an investigation conducted by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn’s staff.

The small difficulty is that if the Louis Berger Group were to be convicted of criminal wrongdoing, then they would be ineligible for federal contracts (“debarment”).  As a result, the company would probably go out of business because it has become so dependent on government handouts.  In turn, the U.S. government would lose its biggest “civilian” contractor in Afghanistan.  New York Construction reports:

“The mere allegation of wrongdoing could result in debarment,” which could force the company “to shut its doors,” Wolff claims.

Wolff wants to cash out his stockholdings which would drain the company of cash that federal prosecutors would like to recoup for taxpayers (remember the budget deficit?)

Meanwhile, back home, Louis Berger Group has its fingers in the three major parts of the coal industry’s much beloved Project Mountaineer: Susquehanna-Roseland, TrAIL, and PATH.  This is how the company describes its role in the PATH project:

The Berger Team is currently conducting route selection efforts, supporting the public involvement process, and coordinating local, state, and federal agency consultations for this project in West Virginia and Virginia. We are presently conducting permitting for this project.

In light of the Justice Department investigation, public officials might want to reconsider their ties to the Louis Berger Group.

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Economist Howley Challenges National Security Agency’s Environmental Impact Statement

AKA “No Such Agency,” the super-secret NSA cultivates carefully its image as the “smartest guys in the room” — code-breakers, linguists, computer programmers, Internet snoopers and so on.  But the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the NSA expansion at its campus in Fort Meade, Maryland, contradicts this image.

The greatest environmental challenge facing our nation and our global community is human-caused climate change.  This challenge is so profound that it entails significant national security implications as well.  Yet the NSA’s DEIS mostly overlooks it — except for passing references.

The Proposed Action that is the subject of the DEIS is 1.8 million square feet of office space and data center.  As detailed in these comments submitted to the NSA, the DEIS is deficient because it does not (1) consider the Alternative of building the project as Zero-Net-Energy and (2) the DEIS does not estimate either the projected amount of electricity the facilities will purchase from the grid nor the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The DEIS ignores important, government-wide initiatives under way to cut energy use and GHG emissions.  Executive Order 13514 says that, beginning in 2020, all federal buildings should be built as Zero-Net-Energy.  The NSA are the “best and the brightest” — why can’t they do it now?

The DEIS makes no attempt to account for GHG emissions from purchased energy — even though this can be done quite easily — as is illustrated in the comments.

The DEIS ignores the State of Maryland’s statutory energy efficiency goals even though the Draft Guidance prepared by the Council on Environmental Quality on how agencies should deal with GHG emissions in an environmental impact statement says that federal, state and local energy goals should ne included in the analysis.

If the NSA had done a complete analysis of their projected power usage, then it would become obvious that this project will put a significant strain on the local power grid, force up prices for homeowners and businesses and increase pressure to build the “coal-by-wire” PATH transmission project.

Construction of PATH would leave the NSA headquarters more dependent on long-distance transmission of dirty power and vulnerable to natural or man-made disruptions.  There are better ways to do it: IBM has developed a data center that runs “off the grid.”

Building a coal-by-wire transmission line from West Virginia’s John Amos coal plant to a massive new substation in Mt. Airy, Maryland — a short hop from Fort Meade — and connecting it to an energy-inefficient new data center might please a certain powerful member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  Coal-addicted John D. Rockefeller IV served as chairman of the committee during 2007-09 (and continues as the senior Democrat behind the new chair) and is a strong supporter of PATH.  John D. Rockefeller is leading the attack on the Environmental Protection Agency from within President Obama’s own party.

Here is an opportunity to reassure taxpayers that our national-security policies cannot be held hostage to parochial, pork-barrel interests.  By constructing “Site M” as a Zero-Net-Energy facility, the NSA can show the world that it understands the strategic ramifications of climate change and is committing to do something about it.

If you would like a copy of the DEIS, then you must request one by email.  (Why can’t they PDF it and put it on the Internet like all the other agencies do?)

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Links to More Information on PATH

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Federal Law Requires a Full EIS for PATH

The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) will run for over 270 miles from the John E. Amos coal-fired power plant in West Virginia to a massive new transformer substation in Mt. Airy, Maryland.  The path of PATH cuts across National Forest and National Park property.  The National Park Service (NPS) is the lead federal agency charged with conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NPS is currently considering the “scope” of the EIS.  The  coal and power corporations pushing the transmission line would prefer a very narrow scope addressing only the impact of constructing the line within the federal property boundaries (a few miles at most.)

Opponents of PATH have pointed out that the transmission line will have extensive environmental impacts the largest of which are caused by the increased burning of toxic coal that will result if the line is put into operation.  We arrive at the question: Does NEPA permit an agency to define EIS scope narrowly or must it consider all of the environmental impacts of the proposed project?

This is not the first time this question has been raised.  Ever since its passage in 1970 (in the wake of the Santa Barbara oil spill), both agency bureaucrats and corporate developers have sought to grease the wheels of their pet projects by narrowing the scope of the EIS.  Time and again, the federal courts have corrected them.

A recent example is the judge’s decision filed March 15, 2010, in Manitoba v. Salazar challenging the NEPA process for a major water project in North Dakota.  The following are quotes directly from the judge’s order which cite the long string of federal court cases on this topic.

On the question whether the lead agency can pick and choose which envirnmental consequences it wants to consider and which it can exclude:

“NEPA has twin aims.” Balt. Gas & Elec. Co. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 462 U.S. 87, 97 (1983). “First, ‘it places upon an agency the obligation to consider every significant aspect of the environmental impact of a proposed action.’” Id. (quoting Vt. Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 435 U.S. 519, 553 (1978)). “Second, it ensures that the agency will inform the public that it has indeed considered environmental concerns in its decisionmaking process.” Id. These goals are “realized through a set of ‘action-forcing’ procedures that require that agencies ‘take a ‘hard look’ at environmental consequences,’ and that provide for broad dissemination of relevant environmental information.’” Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 350 (1989) (quoting Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390, 410 n.21 (1976)). “Other statutes may impose substantive environmental obligations on federal agencies, but NEPA merely prohibits uninformed — rather than unwise — agency action.” Id. at 351.  [See page 10-11.]

Can the lead agency simply go through the motions of conducting an EIS or do they have to do a serious job?

“An agency’s primary duty under the NEPA is to ‘take a ‘hard look’ at environmental consequences.’” Pub. Utils. Comm’n v. FERC, 900 F.2d 269, 282 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (quoting Kleppe, 427 U.S. at 410 n.21). “Since NEPA requires the agency to ‘take a ‘hard look’ at environmental consequences before taking a major action,’ the judiciary must see that this legal duty is fulfilled.”6 Found. on Econ. Trends v. Heckler, 756 F.2d 143, 151 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (quoting Balt. Gas & Elec., 462 U.S. at 97-98); see also Sierra Club v. Peterson, 717 F.2d 1409, 1413 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (“the court must insure that the agency took a ‘hard look’ at the environmental consequences of its decision”). “Although the contours of the ‘hard look’ doctrine may be imprecise,” a court must at a minimum “‘ensure that the agency has adequately considered and disclosed the environmental impact of its actions and that its decision is not arbitrary and capricious.’” Nevada v. Dep’t of Energy, 457 F.3d 78, 93 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Balt. Gas & Elec., 462 U.S. at 97-98).  [See page 11.]

What about the problem of cumulative impacts?  Judge Collyer quotes from the federal regulations:

“Cumulative impact is the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-Federal) or person undertakes such other actions.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.7. “Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time.” Id.  [See page 15.]

This certainly does not amount to an exhaustive analysis of the legal issues confronting the NPS as it considers the scope of the EIS.  However, those who argue that NPS must take a “hard look” at all of the environmental impacts of the project and their cumulative effect would seem to be standing on solid legal ground.

Judge Collyer’s decision was cited by Congressman Henry Waxman in his recent letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding her agency’s draft EIS in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline project that will bring heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to Texas refineries.  (EPA has also weighed in.)  Clinton’s draft EIS excluded consideration of greenhouse gas emissions from the production of oil from tar sands.  Waxman opined:

As a matter of good government, it makes little sense to prepare an EIS, which has the sole purpose of ensuring that the government understands the environmental impacts of a proposed action, that excludes consideration of the primary environmental impact.

This same could be said of the NPS EIS for the PATH project.

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O’Malley Joins East Coast Governors to Challenge Transmission Bailout

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley joined a bipartisan group of governors from ten other states in a letter opposing a Congressional plan to subsidize unnecessary new high-voltage power lines that would span the nation.  (This follows an earlier joint effort to accelerate offshore wind development.)

While the proposal is touted as “green” because a few land-based wind farms would connect to the new power lines, the biggest beneficiaries would be major toxic-coal-fired generators in the middle of the country whose plants are under-utilized.  There is no way to separate “green” electrons from any other kind and local politicians will insist that existing toxic-coal plants be allowed to connect, too.

The transmission bailout scheme is backed by corporate players like Warren Buffet‘s Mid-American Energy and American Electric Power who are among the biggest and dirtiest.  Unfortunately, the plan also has the support of the Obama Administration:

“The efficient transmission of clean energy is a critical part of the backbone that the president envisions here,” Bernstein said.

Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles countered:

“The idea that we need a game-changer isn’t right. We need to find the cheapest solution to the greenhouse gas problem, and this is not it.”

Governor O’Malley is right to stick up for Marylanders.  Forcing ratepayers to pay for transmission lines to import out-of-state dirty power would undercut efforts to promote energy efficiency and local renewables that will create jobs and economic security for Maryland.

Fossil fuel interests have been battling to block the development of the massive wind resources located off the East Coast for a decade.

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Montgomery County Delegation Urged to Challenge “Coal-by-Wire” Transmission

Montgomery County has led years of efforts to make Maryland a leader among states in combatting human-caused global over-heating.  The County’s delegation to Annapolis holds its annual “Priorities Hearing” in Rockville this evening.

Maryland Energy Report submitted a statement urging legislators to ask tough questions about the PATH proposal that would bring more dirty, coal-fired power from West Virginia to Maryland.

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Transmission Update

Project Mountaineer is the scheme blessed by the Cheney Administration to build massive, high-voltage power lines to ship dirty, coal-fired power from the Ohio Valley to the East Coast.

Attention today is focused on one leg: the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline or “PATH.”

On Wednesday, October 28, the staff of the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) filed a motion calling on the PSC to dismiss the PATH filing as insufficient because (1) necessary approvals have not been sought in a timely manner (a reference to Maryland) and (2) updated load projections have not been filed.  The Commissioners have the final say.  More on opposition to “Project Mountaineer” in West Virginia is here.

This follows an October 19  filing by the staff of the Virginia State Corporations Commission moving to dismiss the application because the proposal cannot be evaluated without a Maryland segment.  Commissioners have the final say.  More information on the fight against “coal by wire” in Virginia can be found here.

Things started going south for PATH on September 9 when the Maryland PSC concluded that “PATH LLC” was not eligible to file the application.  The PSC gave PATH 30 days to clarify their intentions, which the applicant failed to do with their October 9 letter.  The Maryland Sierra Club has more information on transmission projects.

PATH continues to enjoy the support of key federal agencies and major power corporations.

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