SALEM — John Keenan and Lori Ehrlich are close in one sense: They are colleagues at the Statehouse and state representatives from neighboring communities. But they couldn’t be farther apart on the biggest issue facing Salem right now — the construction of an $800 million natural gas power plant on the waterfront.
Keenan is a strong supporter of the proposal, Ehrlich a staunch opponent.
For the past few weeks, Keenan has been locked in a battle with the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group that has appealed state approvals won by Footprint Power, the New Jersey developers who want to build the 630-megawatt Salem plant as the first phase of its redevelopment of the 65-acre site.
In a bold move, Keenan, chairman of the House energy committee, attached language to a bill aimed at blocking CLF or anyone else from further appeals of the Salem project. Keenan argued that CLF and other opponents have had their say before state and local boards over the past year or more and are filing “frivolous” appeals only to delay or kill a much-needed project.
That controversial bill was filed with a House committee and has not come before the full House for a vote.
Keenan has been outspoken on the power plant issue, defending his stand in news stories and stating his case yesterday in a lengthy commentary on the editorial page of The Salem News. In that piece, he even took on Ehrlich.
Yesterday, Ehrlich did not shy away from the controversy, repeating an earlier claim that she sees Keenan’s move as a “blatant special favor” for Footprint.
It’s worth noting that the gas leaks prevention bill to which Keenan attached his no-appeals language was originally sponsored by Ehrlich. She even appeared a few weeks ago before Keenan’s committee to speak on the bill.