By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD, NH – The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Coos County Business and Employers Group want two members to recuse themselves from the Site Evaluation Committee’s further proceedings on Northern Pass.
Also called the Business Intervenor Group in the motion they filed on Tuesday, they are requesting that Patricia Weathersby and Kathryn Bailey recuse themselves, saying their comments at public hearings show they cannot be impartial.
The Site Evaluation Committee denied Northern Pass’ application to build a 192-mile, $1.6 billion high-voltage transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield. The SEC will hold a deliberative hearing on Northern Pass’s motion for rehearing, which project spokesman Martin Murray said will be filed by the April 30 deadline, on May 24 in Concord.
“Their continued participation in the proceeding would deprive the parties of their due process rights,” the recusal motion says about Weathersby, a Rye attorney, and Bailey, who also serves on the Public Utilities Commission. It was filed by attorneys Brian Murphy and James Bianco.
It quoted Bailey, who moved to deny Northern Pass’ application, speaking about stopping deliberations after two and a half days when the SEC issued an oral denial of the project on Feb. 1. The SEC found Eversource failed to meet its burden of proof that the project would not negatively impact the orderly development of the region.
“I’m worried that if we continue with our deliberations, we will really need to figure out what conditions we would impose on a lot of things. And that’s not – that’s not going to be simple and it’s not going to be fast. And there’s going to be a lot more things to appeal. And I think we have a pretty good record right now…,” Bailey was quoted as saying.
The recusal motion in regards to Weathersby quoted her statements during the March 12 hearing.
Weathersby had said, “I don’t think we should vacate our oral decision. I’m pretty confident that the decision was well-reasoned, lawful, made in accordance with the statute and the administrative rules. So I think that suspending the oral decision until such time there’s actually a final written decision does sort of add some clarity without just a dismissal.”
The motion further quoted Weathersby as saying: “My opinion still stands, that they did not meet their burden concerning orderly development of the region.”
The motion argued that Northern Pass is guaranteed “judges as impartial as the lot of humanity will admit.” And said while there is no specific statute regarding SEC member recusal, that disqualification of a judge is required “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Bailey’s comments “demonstrate a focus on the number of issues that a party could take on appeal and the ‘risks’ to the subcommittee if they continued their deliberations, rather than focusing on the appropriate procedure for evaluating the application,” the motion argued.
“From an objectively reasonable person’s perspective her comments demonstrate a factual basis upon which to doubt her impartiality,” the motion states.
Weathersby’s comments “indicate that even if deliberations were reopened she would not consider whether any mitigating conditions imposed by the subcommittee could address concerns raised during the course of this proceeding, contrary to SEC rules,” the recusal motion states.
Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, an intervenor opposed the Northern Pass’ plan, said: “They don’t like the decision, so they are now attacking the decision-makers. That’s a Hail Mary pass with nobody downfield to catch it.”
Savage went on to say, “IBEW workers are likely to get jobs building a transmission line; it just won’t be Northern Pass as proposed and now denied.”
Savage was referring to Central Maine Power, which has until Wednesday to reach agreement with the three major electric distribution companies in Massachusetts to transport 1,200 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec electricity to the Bay State.
The contract was initially awarded to Northern Pass, but withdrawn by Massachusetts energy officials after the SEC denied Northern Pass’s application to build.
The 20-year contract to provide renewable energy to Massachusetts customers is currently being negotiated among New England Clean Energy Connect officials and the three major electric distributors in Massachusetts, Eversource, the parent company of Northern Pass, National Grid and Unitil.
If the SEC denies the motion to reconsider the project, Eversource has said it would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.