Wednesday, July 03, 2013
One known strategy used by the power industry to get the public to allow them to do what they want has been called “piecemealing.” The Army Corps of Engineers’ glossary of environmental terms defines piecemealing as “breaking up a broad action into its component parts to present a perception of lower risk.”
Piecemealing gets its name from trying to get folks to digest large things by cutting them into smaller, more digestible pieces. Say you want your child to eat a big chunk of meat. You’ll have better luck getting the kid to swallow it by first hacking it into small bites.
There is evidence of piecemealing in the Environmental Impact Statement offered by SWEPCO to the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and it can be seen in two distinct areas. First, SWEPCO only presents a small part of what will actually become a much larger project.
Evidence of this consists of published maps showing the Shipes Road-Kings River 345 kV line going on into Missouri to connect with other portions of the grid and additional new lines running on east through Carroll County. These connections and power lines were left out of the current application under the pretense that those plans don’t exist.
With the new 345 kV line, and the old one still in place, they’ll be able to deliver at least five times the amount of power currently passing through Carroll County. It is obvious that the power line expansion is not for us. But as long as they don’t show us the whole thing, they can pretend it’s to meet our needs.
A second example of piecemealing comes in how the EIS and SWEPCO have dealt with other agencies. While the Corps of Engineers and National Parks Service had received minimal notice of the project, SWEPCO has yet to notify the regional office of the EPA, even though the Missouri Department of Natural Resources had advised by letter they do so.
By pretending the project is nothing more than a utility trying to construct a simple power line within state boundaries, SWEPCO claims “…there is currently no federal nexus resulting from the involvement of a federal agency in this project.” This claim is made despite multiple crossings of the White and Kings Rivers, despite interference with the National Battlefield Park at Pea Ridge, despite the threat to a number of endangered and protected species of animals and plants, and despite one proposed route of the power line being visible from the Eureka Springs Historic District.
The advantage of piecemealing in this second case is SWEPCO can avoid complex and expensive compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act which requires that an Environmental Impact Statement meet certain conditions and standards, which the EIS offered by SWEPCO does not. One of these standards is that a variety of alternatives be researched, including ones that can only be accomplished by parties other than the immediate applicant.
In the Shipes Road to Kings River 345 kV power line expansion, the EIS offered only two alternatives, that of doing nothing, or that of choosing one of six proposed routes. This was one of the primary points attacked by our Save the Ozarks Ph.D. from MIT, Dr. Hyde Merrill. He proved that the new line wasn’t needed in the first place, and second, if it were proved to actually be necessary, Merrill offered six reasonable alternatives that did not require the new power line, and that SWEPCO had completely ignored in their EIS.
There are dangers involved in piecemealing for the company trying to get away with it. By hiding important information from the public at crucial times in the planning process, and by neglecting to do as thorough a job as should have been done in the first place, the public may actually become aroused… and angry. In this case we’ve been forced to take part in a local battle of epic proportions, David vs. Goliath, that none of us wanted.
I think as we prepare individual statements for the public hearing on July 15-16, it’s important we gain insight into strategies used by SWEPCO so we can lift our discourse above the level of simple anger and direct it toward rational discussion of the impact and implications of the Shipes Road to Kings River 345 kV project.
SWEPCO is just another large company trying to get its way. As we recognize the strategies they use against us, we have greater power to stand without anger, comfortable in our own defense.
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