Thursday, July 25, 2013
At public hearings conducted by the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) last week regarding SWEPCO’s application to build a high voltage transmission line, 229 speakers stood with their backs to the audience speaking to Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin.
Prior to the hearing there had been significant concerns about an order issued by Griffin saying recording devices and cameras wouldn’t be allowed; SWEPCO was required to provide police security; speakers were limited to three minutes; no applause would be allowed; and people who filed pre-testimony such as witnesses for the citizen group Save The Ozarks (STO) wouldn’t be allowed to speak.
But the judge withdrew prohibitions on allowing cameras and recording devices (which would have violated state open meetings law). She tried to limit speakers to three minutes, but was generous in allowing people to finish up after the buzzer went off. Local residents who had pre-filed written testimony were allowed their three minutes.
Griffin showed empathy for the speakers. She was really listening, nodding, taking notes, and responding to thank each speaker. She spoke about how eloquent the speakers were, especially the young opponents. She herself applauded 12-year-old Ethan Robison who asked SWEPCO, “Are you going to leave these problems for my generation to deal with? If so, thanks a lot.” At times the judge appeared to tear up at the more emotional testimony.
From the beginning, the deck has been stacked against the people. That started with people whose land is on one of the proposed six routes getting only a month notification to intervene, which requires hiring a private attorney. About five percent of the people whose land is in the way of the behemoth project weren’t notified in early April, and had even less time to prepare.
A monopoly utility makes more money the more it spends, which creates an incentive to overspend. In this case, if a problem is identified regarding potential power line overloads, some counter balance is needed to make sure the company doesn’t choose the most expensive option and an option that allows them to profit in other ways.
The counterbalance is supposed to be the attorney general. But Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel accepts campaign contributions from the utility industry, then fails to represent the public interest.
The APSC is also supposed to serve the public interests. But the record thus far in the SWEPCO high voltage transmission line application has been biased towards the applicant. This became evident when APSC staff challenged certain aspects of STO’s petition to intervene. For example, STO’s mission is to protect, preserve and promote the Ozarks. An earlier ruling by Judge Griffin sought to limit STO to only “protect and preserve” instead of “promote.”
STO is the largest, by far, of the citizens groups formed to pool resources and oppose the power line. Many members are concerned about how the project would impact the area’s tourism economy and personal property values. It isn’t right to try to prevent STO from discussing the economic issues vital to this region.
After two long days of hearings, a member of the APSC staff appeared to be trying to prepare some of the opponents for defeat. This is a federal mandate, he said. Maybe you will just have to live with it.
No, we won’t. This project isn’t needed. You can’t use the feds as the bogeyman. There are less expensive and less damaging alternatives to fix potential problems.
If the massive outpouring at the public hearing, combined with about 4,800 comments against the project aren’t heeded, and if the APSC turns its back and goes against us, it can be appealed. The courts overturned SWEPCO’s application for the Turk Power Plant, and the same thing could happen with SWEPCO’s Shipe Road to Kings River power line.
Comments:Be the first to comment!
Login to comment!