Seeking openness in energy plans
Toby Talbot / AP File Photo
The Conservation Law Foundation is trying to gain access to documents laying out energy plans for the region.
The Conservation Law Foundation has filed appeals in Vermont and Massachusetts regarding the withholding of public documents about the development of the New England governors’ regional energy plans, which include gas pipeline and hydropower projects.
CLF requested these documents in March to bring transparency to the process surrounding the governors’ plans, which to date have been shrouded in unnecessary secrecy.
In Vermont, CLF primarily seeks documents that the New England States Committee on Electricity — the agency working to implement the massive initiative — has refused to produce. CLF appealed NESCOE’s refusal under Vermont’s broad access to public records law.
Vermont law is clear that all entities that act as an arm of the state and perform a government function are subject to Vermont’s access to public records law.
Vermont has a long and proud tradition of open government. In April, Vermont’s agencies promptly provided some documents in response to CLF’s initial request, but NESCOE refused entirely to provide any records. NESCOE was created by and functions as an arm of state governments. As such, it is responsible to comply with Vermont’s public records law.
NESCOE cannot hide behind a veil of secrecy as it develops massive new electric and gas projects for the region. NESCOE’s secrecy thwarts effective and smart resolutions. As we detailed in our briefing to the public last month, the documents that CLF has managed to obtain from some states reveal NESCOE’s outright hostility to conducting the planning process in the open, pervasive and improper influence by the companies that stand to benefit from the plan, and a troubling willingness on the part of NESCOE and state officials to take enormous risks with our money, our region’s energy progress, and our climate.
Customers in Vermont and other states have a right to know the facts about changes to our region’s energy system, especially changes that they will be on the hook to pay for, including the possible overbuilding of and unfair subsidies for massive new electric transmission projects and fossil fuel expansions in the region.
In Massachusetts, CLF’s appeal challenges the timing of the response. Massachusetts law requires the government to respond to a request for public documents within 10 days of receipt. CLF sent its request in March and has been told that the requested documents will not be available until July 31.
The CLF appeals filed include:
— Appeals under Vermont law to NESCOE, the Vermont Public Service Department and the Vermont governor’s office.
— Appeal under Massachusetts law to provide requested records in a timely manner.
— An additional recent appeal under Rhode Island law to provide requested records.
We all should have a chance to fully understand what we will be buying with this proposed regional energy plan. CLF’s appeals seek to bring an open process based on sound research and analysis, rather than backroom dealings with industry insiders.
Sandy Levine is senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation.