Is Florida blind to pipelines?
Dan Christensen, Miami Herald, 2 October 2015,
Firm says Gov. Scott’s stake in pipeline project is ‘irrelevant’,:
Environmental groups seek to block $3 billion project
Coalition seeks all correspondences from Scott, his office
Staff says governor’s blind trust shields him from conflict
Lawyers for a company that wants to build a natural gas pipeline in North Florida have told a judge that environmental opponents should be blocked from “presenting evidence or argument” about Gov. Rick Scott’s financial interest in the company.
“Such evidence is irrelevant and the admission of which would be unfairly prejudicial,” attorneys for Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC told Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter in last week’s filing.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is backing the $3 billion Sabal Trail pipeline, filed a similar argument earlier this month when it called the “allegation regarding a conflict of interest … not material to this proceeding.”
Sabal Trail is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Partners and Florida Power & Light parent NextEra Energy. Spectra Energy’s investors have included Scott.
The nonprofit WWALS Watershed Coalition filed for an administrative hearing on Sept. 3 after state regulators said they intended to award Sabal Trail both a permit and rights to drill under riverbeds in order to build the 267-mile stretch of 36-inch underground pipeline in Florida. The nonprofit has asked the judge to deny the permit.
Among the documents WWALS has asked the DEP to produce are all communications from Scott or his executive office about the Sabal Trail project since the governor took office.
The case is proceeding quickly. On Sept. 21, Sabal Trail’s attorneys at the Tallahassee law firm Hopping Green & Sams invoked a law that Scott signed in May 2013 that speeds up the permitting process for the construction of interstate natural gas pipelines.
Under the law, challenges to new pipelines must be heard within 30 days “regardless of whether the parties agree to the summary proceedings.” Before Scott signed the law, natural gas pipelines were specifically excluded from consideration for expedited review.
As the story says, the hearing in WWALS v. Sabal Trail & FL-DEP will be 19-22 October 2015 in Jasper (or Live Oak). You can help WWALS in this legal case by contributing to our IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.
WWALS’s petition contends the pipeline poses threats to native wildlife, including threatened species, and argues that proposed drilling into the area’s karst limestone to lay pipe could cause new sinkholes to form.
The group, an affiliate of the Waterkeeper Alliance, also raises a potentially explosive political issue: Whether Gov. Scott, as a trustee of the state board that owns the land beneath the rivers, has a conflict of interest because of his investments in Spectra Energy and Williams Company, owner of the Transco pipeline from which Sabal Trail plans to obtain its gas.
“The governor and other public officials are prohibited by state ethics laws from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation or that do business with state agencies,” the group’s petition says.
The governor’s blind trust is supposed to shield him, and the public, from conflicts of interest by putting his investments under the control of an independent trustee, and keeping them secret. Public officers who put their assets in a qualified blind trust receive immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest.
As FloridaBulldog.org has reported, however, Scott’s trustee is Hollow Brook Wealth Management, run by his longtime business crony Alan Baazar. The blind trust also has proved ineffective in preventing public disclosure of Scott’s assets.
Moreover, Florida’s qualified blind trust law, which Scott signed into law in May 2013, does not contemplate the unique situation that has transpired as Scott has used the law.
The story goes into more detail on all these points.
You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!