Undislosed conflicts of interest in NJSpotlight Roundtable

Back in late May 2015, NJSpotlight.com hosted a roundtable event entitled “Natural Gas Pipeline Expansion in New Jersey: Good or Bad?“.

http://www.njspotlight.com/pipeline_roundtable/

The round table included:

Maya K. van Rossum, Delaware River Keeper – against pipeline expansion

Thomas Bracken, President and CEO, NJ Chamber of Commerce – for pipeline expansion

Philip Beachem, President, New Jersey Alliance for Action – for pipeline expansion

Greg Lalevee, Operating Engineers Local 825 – for pipeline expansion

Matthew P. Tomich, Vice President Energy Vision – highlighting alternate energy source

Doug O’Malley, Director, Environment New Jersey – against pipeline expansion

I attended the round table, and you could see immediately that it was a bit of a stacked deck. We had Maya and Doug there who were against pipeline expansion in general, and PennEast specifically. And then there was Mr. Bracken, Mr. Beacehm, and Mr. Lalevee who were for pipeline expansion. And finally there was Mr. Tomich, who seemed to be mostly there to pitch his company and its vision of capturing and using waste methane as a fuel source.

But things were worse than even this “stacked deck” would indicate. As an attendee I have to say that I was somewhat taken aback by the narratives laid out by Mr. Bracken and Mr. Beachem. Both were unabashedly for pipeline expansion, and seemed to focus solely on positive aspects of the projects, with a firm conviction that any environmental or other issues could be “worked out”. It’s understandable that their organizations would like the economic messages that projects like PennEast were sending out, but even so their cheerleading seemed extraordinarly over-zealous and beyond what you’d expect of a supposedly neutral or somewhat neutral party.

Since then it’s come out that there was a reason for that over-zealousness. You see, the aforementioned Thomas Bracken, President and CEO of the NJ Chamber of Commerce, has a connection to the PennEast pipeline that was never disclosed before or during the round table.

Mr. Bracken has also been a member of the Board of Directors of South Jersey Industries (SJI) for 11 years.

http://www.sjindustries.com/about-sji/board-directors

Thomas A. Bracken
Director since 2004.
Member of the Executive Committee
Member of the Corporate Responsibility Committee
Chairman of the Governance Committee
President New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Trenton, NJ

Of the 10 board members, Mr. Bracken has the third longest tenure.

SJI, you may recall, is a 20% part owner of PennEast.

Yes, that’s right. Thomas Bracken, talking up all the wonderful advantages of natural gas pipeline expansion, never bothered to disclose that he sat on the board of the directors of one of the companies under discussion. He even went as far as to talk about South Jersey Industries and Souther Jersey Gas in the third person, invoking “they” and “theirs” when discussing them. When in fact it should have been “us” and “our” (he sits on the South Jersey Gas board of directors, too).

In addition to this, Mr. Bracken is also Chairman of the NJ Alliance for Action.

If you look above at the credentials for the other roundtable members, you’ll notice that Philip Beachem, is President of NJ Alliance for Action.

So Mr. Bracken, who helps directs PennEast part owner SJI, is the boss of Philip Beachem, another pro-pipeline person in the roundtable.

And there it is plain that we have two of the three pro-pipeline round table speakers either directly or indirectly tied to PennEast.

Emails were sent to the NJSpotlight founders and editorial staff for comment on this issue, but no response has been received as of publication of this piece.

I went back to the original recordings of the event and transcribed Mr. Bracken’s comments to see how they sounded know that I knew he was an SJI director.  And I have to say, it reads a whole lot differently than coming from just the President of the NJ Chamber of Commerce.

That transcript is below.  Try to read it from both perspectives – an audience member who has no idea of his connections, and now after the fact that we know the reality.


 
Opening Remarks:

Moderator: Next up will be Tom Bracken, he’s president of the Chamber of Commerce, he’s also chairman of Forward NJ.

Mr. Bracken:
Thank you Tom.
First of all I want to applaud Maya on her passion on this issue and her points, a lot of which are irrefutable. But I think there are different perspectives on different aspects of what we’re talking about here, and one of them is on the business community that I’d like to address.
One thing I would say about Maya’s presentation is that although I do understand that 2030/2040/2050 issue, we have to get there as a state. We have to find a way to get from here to 2020 which is not too far away, but then further on. And so basically my comments are going to be that NJ has many challenges they’re facing, most of them are economic, something to do with the economics of NJ and the fiscal viability of our state. And the one issue that can solve most of the problems of NJ is to attract jobs to our state, provide more income to address the issues. Most of the issues we know what the answers are, we don’t have the money to address those issues, infrastructure being one of them so we have to find a way to make our state more competitive to keep companies here that are here, convince those companies that are here to grow here and invest in jobs here, and if we are lucky enough to attract some companies here that adds to the jobs situation and adds to the revenues of the state of NJ. But we also have to understand to do that we are a state that maybe is the least affordable states for companies and individuals to live in. And business owners in particular, which is what the Chamber of Commerce deals with, they like certain things. They like certainty, they like reliability, and they like effective solutions to their problems. The three biggest issues that the business community deals with that are mandated by those issues are the people issue, healthcare, and energy.
Business people like to have certainty, they like to know they can rely on certain things, they like to know that they can predict within reasonable perspectives the costs of certain things that are driving their businesses. So if I talk to the issue of energy, companies right now are dealing with an energy situation in NJ where we have a high cost of energy. The manufacturing industry in NJ has virtually left, manufacturing is really driven by people and energy, and our manufacturing sector has dwindled to a very low number. It’s starting to come back, I’ll grant you that, but we’re starting from a very low base.

So the issue of energy and the issue of trying to enhance the energy and reduce the cost of energy in NJ is really what we’re talking about here. By doing that we’ll be improving the competitive situation in NJ, which we have to do. We can therefore talk about the improvement this will have on our economy the adding of jobs, not just jobs related to the pipelines, but ongoing jobs in the overall business community of New Jersey, which would allow the state again to address some of its very severe issues that we are facing right now. We have to do anything like this with regard to this pipeline in a very safe and economical and environmentally friendly way I grant you that, that’s absolutely mandatory. But when It all about these issues, and one I’m most particularly aware of is the PennEast issue. You know we have companies that are going to address this issue that have 400 years of safe and reliable energy delivery. They are proven commodities. Also if I understand it right, the PennEast situation is going to require the approval of 11 different regulatory agencies before it gets approved. Which I think is going to get some very severe scrutiny. Also I think PennEast, if I understand it right, will have 24 hour surveillance, so if there is an issue the issue can be resolved and people can get on top off it very quickly. So the issue of doing the PennEast project, and I assume the other pipelines are very similar, they are going to be monitored very closely, they’re going to be regulated very closely, they are going to be scrutinized very closely, so they are going to be environmentally friendly and not a problem I think, will be effectively addressed. Because our position is they have to be effectively addressed.

The other issue with regards to pipelines and natural gas in NJ, we have for years in NJ had a very high cost of energy, basically because we’ve gotten our gas from the gulf. And the cost of transporting gas is one of the big issues in the price 0of energy. We now have a natural gas find right next door in Pennsylvania, probably the biggest gas find in the history of the U.S. that we would be I think deemed irresponsible if we didn’t try to find a way to take advantage of that as a state. So unfortunately the only way to get that gas from PA Marcellus to NN is through pipelines. We have a growing demand for energy in the state of NJ that has to be addressed, you can do this possibly with electricity, which would be putting up transmission lines which I think are more costly and intrusive to the environment than gas pipelines but we have to find a way to provide for the ongoing energy needs of the state both from a consumer standpoint and also from the business standpoint. So we can’t be ignorant of the fact that we have an opportunity staring us in the face and we have to find a way to do that, we have to find a way that benefits the state, we have to find a way so it does not hurt the issues that Maya talked about, and I think if we address all the issues, and try to find the right combination, this gets done in the right way, and that’s what we are really proposing that this be handled in the right way, but in the end of the day have NJ becoming more viable and the citizens to benefit because their cost of energy is lower, but also because the citizens not to be imposed upon by having some of the issues Maya talked about come back to haunt us. So there’s a way to do this, I’m sure there’s a way to do this, and it can be done right and everyone can benefit from this, and our position is let’s find a way to do that.

Answer to moderator comment:
Bracken:

I’ve heard Doug and may talk about these issues. I go back to what I said in my comments. I don’t know if nobody’s looking at these things, I don’t know who’s doing what, I really don’t. But I do know one thing. When you want to get something done the right way , you bring all parties tot eh table, you sit down and have a constructive conversation, and you try to find a compromise way to get this done so everyone comes away mutually happy or mutually unhappy depending on how you look at it. That’s how things get handled in business you all know this within your own companies. So we are a strong advocate for dealing with this issue by having the appropriate parties sit down and talk through the issues. So this way we can get something done effectively, we can get something done first of all, something has to be done one way or the other. So I would just continue to advocate for that kind of conversation. And just two things Doug said that I really need to clarify. One is, I think Doug you alluded to the fact that the Chamber as somehow promoting gas exporting in New Jersey. No way. We have not advocated in any way shape or form for that. Nor would we. We are advocating for getting reliable energy into the state of NJ at a lower cost.

Secondly, BL England. I do know something about BL England. And South Jersey Gas, you know I read an article today that said that it’s wrong for them to reapply to get this pipeline done in South Jersey because it was defeated. It wasn’t defeated. It was not approved, there’s a difference between being defeated and being not approved. It was a tie. So the company wants to get, companies want clarity on issues. South Jersey Gas wants clarity on their issue, and because it was a tie they want to reapply with a full board to find out if it’s going to be pro or con. It’s not a matter of reapplying and being demonized for doing that. It’s a matter of getting clarity. Also the underlying fundamental issue is they want to convert a coal plant to a gas plant. I mean I would assume you are for that because that is at the route cause of what we’re talking about here. So I just leave it at that, so my whole comment is if we want to get resolution on these issues, let’s have a conversation with all parties involved. So we can get the passion of Maya and Doug and Matthew on the issue, and see if we can’t find a good solution.

Moderator question on FERC (on rubber stamp):

Bracken:

I have no idea, I don’t know the power of FERC. I know who they are and what they do, but I don’t know the power of FERC. I don’t know the ability of the state of NJ is to influence the decision. Sorry I don’t know the answer to that.

Panelist question on NJ already having plenty of supply:
Bracken:

Tom I don’t know the statistics so I can’t really comment on that, but the one thing I do know though about the energy business and gas is this issue of peak load. You know real hot days, real cold days, when there’s very heavy demand. I think that has something to do with the issue of gas volumes coming in, but your statistics I would trust your statistics to be correct. But the energy companies would have a different perspective on their issues than you would so I can’t comment until I could hear their perspective.
Moderator question on alternative fuels conflicting with fossil fuels:
Bracken:

Yes, I think the healthier our utilities are in the state, the more they’re going to invest. I know the utilities in the state they’re going to invest in ways to waste to gas, to Matthew’s issue, they’re looking at liquid natural gas, LNG fuel for automobiles that you go down to south jersey you’ll find that some of the Wawas have put up facilities to accommodate that. The utilities want to invest in alternative sources of energy. But they need to have the money to do that, and that gets back to my point about a healthy economy, the economy growing, having them grow, having the dollars to invest. So it’s not mutually exclusive, in fact it’s complementary. The stronger the state, the more they can invest and the more that these issues will be addressed, and the better off we’ll all be in the long run.

On fracking and water ways.

Bracken:

I just have to say I keep hearing about the demonization of the Christie administration, the State of NJ, of FERC, of the utilities industry. These are not bad people, they’re trying to find a solution to all these problems and you can you can be as passionate as you want about these issues and I respect that but we have to find a solution, and these are all people who want to find a solution believe it or not. Demonizing people is not gonna be the solution to our problem here. Trying to find a way to work with everybody is going to be the way to the solution.
On damage to environment, people’s lives and differentiating oil and gas:
Bracken: My issue with gas and or oil pipelines is what is the benefit to the state of NJ. Is a gas pipeline going to benefit the businesses and consumers of NJ. Is the oil pipeline going to do that? Or is the oil pipeline going to brough tin simply to be processed and shipped back out. Whatever is the benefit, if there’s something being done that is to the benefit of New Jersey, that has all priority over something that does not have the benefit to the consumers and businesses.

Published by

Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and two cats Ponce de Leon and Xavier.

3 thoughts on “Undislosed conflicts of interest in NJSpotlight Roundtable

  1. I think it would be prudent for NJ Spotlight to have a follow up Broadcast segment that reveals the undisclosed affiliation these round table guests have with the gas industry.

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