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Continuing Misplaced Focus Diverts Pipeline Foes

Campaign Controlled by Corporate consultants, K Street lobbyists, and Corporate lawyers

“Van Ness Feldman is the ‘go-to’ firm for natural gas regulatory issues. The firm’s depth and breadth of experience is unmatched.” – U.S. News & World Report

Curious, in the wake of NY Gov. Cuomo’s Constitution pipeline kill and just when Bernie Sanders comes to town, the so called activists are invisible and the very next day, try to change the subject. Let me explain.

Good news today from the west coast provides an opportunity to illustrate my longstanding concerns about the misplaced focus of some NJ anti-pipeline activists.

First the good news:

The NY Times reports that US Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for a coal export facility in Washington State:

SEATTLE — The coal industry, shaken by dropping global demand and tighter air quality regulations, took another major hit on Monday when the United States Army Corps of Engineers said it would deny the permit for what could have been nation’s largest coal export terminal here in Washington.

The $665 million project, called the Gateway Pacific Terminal, was already hitting headwinds. The developer asked last month that the state environmental review on the project be delayed, citing “uncertainty and related costs.” And one of the largest potential suppliers of coal, Peabody Energy, filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

But in the end, the decision came down to fish.

(read the Corps decision – don’t worry faux “War on Coal” folks, Sanders has a “just transition” policy to assure fairness and funding for creation of new jobs.

The Army Corps decision enforced the Lummi Nation’s ancestral fishing rights recognized under an 1855 Treaty:

“The corps may not permit a project that abrogates treaty rights,” said Col. John G. Buck, the corps’ Seattle District commander, in a telephone news conference. The project, Colonel Buck said, “is not permittable.”.

Now to my point: let’s pose a hypothetical based on this huge Army Corps permit denial decision.

Suppose a well paid corporate PR consultant, corporate economic consultant, and a former K Street lobbyist now with a high powered DC corporate law firm (with energy industry clients) were billing the Lummi tribe for a campaign targeting FERC and pipeline safety issues and urging local Mayors to lobby FERC in Washington DC?

That strategy targets the wrong agency, wrong policy issue, wrong legal attack, wrong political strategy, and wrong location.

Given that wrongheaded strategy, you might even suspect that the Lummi were being ripped off, sandbagged and maybe even intentionally diverted from a winning strategy (i.e. targeting the Army Corps, Treaty, fishing rights), to a losing strategy.

Well, that’s just what is happening in the PennEast pipeline battle. Take a look:

PennEast opponents today are holding a Trenton press conference, as I write this, in opposition to the pipeline.

I could not bring myself to hop on the Riverline to Trenton – I just couldn’t stomach the circus.

Recall that just last week, I wrote about why a private property rights focus was a losing proposition.

Today, the PennEast crowd is touting exactly that – in their Media Advisory (boldface in original):

… lawyers for Homeowners Against Land Taking – PennEast (HALT) will appear in Superior Court in Hunterdon County, 71 Main St. Flemington, NJ, for a hearing on HALT’s trespassing lawsuit against PennEast.  HALT attorney Steve Richardson of Wiley Rein will be available for interviews after the court hearing.

For the record, attorney Steve Richardson of Wiley Rein is with DC beltway corporate firm.

Attorney Richardson previously served (Bloomberg bio) for over a decade as a beltway lobbyist for the law firm Van Ness Feldman, who represented energy industry giants, proposing insane fossil projects like this.

Richardson’s former law firm brags:

The robust production of domestic natural gas and oil supplies continues to create opportunities and challenges for the pipeline industry. Van Ness Feldman’s Pipeline & LNG practice group  is uniquely positioned to help clients navigate these evolving challenges by working with clients to devise creative and innovative solutions  in order to help capitalize upon new opportunities, meet challenges presented by regulators’ heightened safety concerns, and to influence the public policy debate regarding how to use the nation’s energy abundance. The scope of the firm’s Pipeline practice, if measured by number of pipelines and pipeline miles, continues to be the largest of any law firm in the country.

“Van Ness Feldman is the ‘go-to’ firm for natural gas regulatory issues. The firm’s depth and breadth of experience is unmatched.” – U.S. News & World Report

But corporate DC beltway lobbying and law firms are not alone among the PennEast crowd.

The PennEast group’s “Media Advisory” was drafted by and lists as contact person Jayne O’Connor, of the corporate PR firm Taft and Partners. Note all their corporate clients, including oil industry giant Conoco.

Ms. O’Connor failed to respond to my questions I sent her on Friday regarding the press advisory and public perception of conflicts of interest at Taft:

Hi Jayne – Bill Wolfe here, alternative media – Wolfenotes.com. I have a few questions on Media Advisory below:

1. I noticed the corporate clients of Taft and Partners, and wonder how you respond to a public perception that there are conflicts of interest? http://taftandpartners.com/#our-work/clients/

2. I Notice that Taft’s list of regional clients doesn’t even mention the PennEast pipeline people or ReThink Energy NJ as national or regional clients – why is that? No mention of this campaign in Case Studies or What’s New pages either.

Is there any concern that listing the PennEast campaign might harm your corporate brand?

3. How much is Taft being paid for the ReThink Energy NJ campaign? Sam question regarding various other consultants to the campaign?

The press conference today announces a FERC lobbying effort by Mayors:

Conservation leaders, citizens groups and a bipartisan group of elected officials will announce the results of a regional petition opposing the PennEast pipeline.  The petition collected more than 8,000 signatures from citizens across 2,000 zip codes in NJ and PA. Seven mayors from townships along the pipeline’s proposed route in NJ and PA will be present at this event. The mayors will be hand-delivering the petition signatures to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington, D.C. the following day, May 11.

As I’ve repeatedly written, a focus on FERC is a losing strategy – and political lobbying by Mayors is even a BIGGER loser, as FERC policy and precedent govern FERC decisions, not local politics.

So, just like my hypothetical, the high paid corporate consulting team is focused on the wrong agency, wrong policy issue, wrong legal attack, wrong political strategy, and wrong location.

The correct agency is the NJ DEP. The correct policy issue is the Clean Water Act, water quality standards, and state permits. The correct legal attack is CWA Section 401. The correct political strategy is grass roots organizing targeting the Gov. and DEP Commissioner. The correct location is Trenton.

This latest fiasco follows previous mis-fires and misguidance from well paid corporate economic consultants.

My guess is that the PennEast “Rethink Energy NJ” campaign has blown over $100,000 for bad advice –

Just think if all that money went into organizing a statewide coalition of climate, anti-fracking and anti-pipeline activists across the state?

But such a campaign will never spring from the inside of corporate PR, economic consulting and Beltway lobbying and law firms with corporate clients – or from an elite, Foundation funded, land trust.

Curious, just when Bernie Sanders comes to town, the so called activists are invisible and the very next day, try to change the subject.

At this point, it makes me wonder if they really want to win.

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