Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dogs and Ponies?

A "Public Hearing"("Oral Testimony by Invitation Only") re NYRI is scheduled for tomorrow evening at SUNYIT by the NY Assembly Energy Committee to examine:

"how the proposed transmission line will address the State's current energy needs and is consistent with the state's energy policy; public participation opportunities in the Article VII application review process; the potential impact on electric consumer bills; effect on homeowners and business in the proposed area; and environmental and health concerns associated with the proposed transmission line, including the impact on areas of special environmental significance such as national park designation."

WHAT'S THE POINT? The Assembly Committee does not say in its announcement what it hopes to do with the information it will get at the hearing. Close the Barn Door after the horse escapes, perhaps?

The issues to be examined duplicate to a large extent what will be examined in the Department of Public Service certification process -- the very process our Assembly (and Senate) set up under the law .

Does the Assembly (which employs a lot of advisers) really need to hold a public hearing to find out whether or not the NYRI proposal is consistent with the state's energy policy -- the very policy the Assembly (and Senate) fashioned?

It was almost predictable you would see these market forces dominating the scene, rather consumer interests," says Assemblyman Tonko. If it was predictable, Mr. Tonko, then why did you allow it?

To be fair to Mr. Tonko, he is only one Assemblyman and cannot stop anything by himself. The Assembly is a body dominated by Downstate Democrats -- like the Senate is dominated by Downstate Republicans. Upstate must expect that whatever legislated "solutions" to electric power or other problems will be based on the Downstate perspective, i.e., impacts on Upstate simply go unnoticed.

Don't expect anything productive to come out of this "public hearing" because the hearing has no clear objective. The "invitation only" requirement ensures that what is heard is carefully managed. Do expect plenty of photo-ops, sound-byte-ops and "BS" calculated to impress voters that their representatives are "fighting for them."

Remember, these are the "policy makers" -- the very same people (including the Senate) who have already set the stage for a NYRI to happen with their laws allowing deregulation of the electric industry, delegating decisionmaking to the DPS/PSC, and setting the standards (or allowing a lack thereof or vagueness therein) by which the administrative decisions must be rendered. They can't credibly point fingers at the other party because each party controls one legislative house in New York State. They can't change the rules in midstream. The meeting will be a convenient deflection from their own culpability.

Speaking of the Senate, speculation continues on who NYRI really is. It is not comforting to read of the connection between Mr. Joe Bruno's press secretary and the law firm representing NYRI. Utica area residents are well aquainted with Mr. "Marcy is not in the running for the Chip Fab" Bruno. We also know that the NYRI powerline would split the Marcy Chip Fab Site in two, rendering it useless for that purpose, even as a backup to Mr. Bruno's Luther Forest site. How convenient for Mr. Bruno. It also is not comforting to read of the connections with Mr. Giuliani and a former Pataki administration official.

We've previously asked "Who is NYRI?" and explained why the State should ask for and has a right to this information. The Public Service Commission has a right to ask for this information under its own regulations, but has yet to do so, at least not publicly. The State Attorney General could get this information, but we see the same lack of interest. How about the State Senators and Assemblymembers who now display such public concern over NYRI's proposal? What are they doing to get this information? Most of our area representatives are "Active Parties" in the PSC proceeding. As long as NYRI continues to hide behind its corporate veil (and veils within veils) and those with the power fail to get answers, the public's imagination will fill the voids.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Commission decision process is perking along with its latest Procedural Ruling. One aspect helpful to the pro se litigants is the determination that service by e-mail is acceptable as long as 5 hard copies of papers are served on the Secretary of the Commission. With the latest service list containing 12 pages of addresses of parties, mere postage for an individual party could be a significant expense. This ruling helps make the process more available to the public participants. Another helpful aspect is the availability of a mediation-trained Administrative Law Judge to assist parties in coordinating their efforts -- again, particularly important for the pro se litigants who likely don't have the time to duplicate something that another party may have a better handle on. [The contrast between the way career civil-servants and elected officials handle the public is interesting.]

A bit concerning is the determination to allow NYRI to reply to the responses by other parties to NYRI's request for waivers, which apparently is allowed only in "extraordinary" circumstances. This could lengthen the process. While the Ruling is certainly correct that NYRI must be permitted to reply to Utica/Sherburne's request for more information, it is not understood why the request for information could not have been handled separately. Also concerning is the Ruling's reference to the possibility of the federal government pre-empting state decisionmaking if the state does not act in a timely fashion. While this is a true statement, what the federal government does technically should have no role in the state's process. Hopefully the federal "threat" will not result in an incomplete hearing record or hurried decision-making.

Judges are MIA re the Utica v NYRI case in local Supreme Court. According to WKTV, "Three out of the four supreme court justices in Oneida County are rescuing themselves from hearing the case" (emphasis supplied). He he he -- That is one way of putting it! :-)

With too few puzzle pieces available to the public, the public is forced to speculate on what the final picture will be. One gets the impression that the important decisions have already been made, that the power line will go through, and the only thing left is to determine how the ultimate decision will be presented. Will it be the State saying the project is justified, or will it be the Federal Government, with NY State officials blaming the Public for delaying the process and causing a Federal preemption?

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