SALEM — A battle over a proposed natural gas power plant on the Salem waterfront has sparked a war of words between Salem’s state representative and a senior attorney for a leading environmental advocacy group.
On Wednesday, Rep. John Keenan, chairman of the House Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, added language to a bill on gas leaks that he said would prevent “frivolous appeals likely to halt the (Salem) plant’s timely development,” according to a press release from Keenan’s office.
The bill was approved by Keenan’s committee but has not gone to the full House.
The language Keenan inserted is clearly aimed at the Conservation Law Foundation, which filed an appeal last week with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to overturn a state board’s approval of construction of the $800 million Salem plant, which Footprint Power, a New Jersey firm, plans to open in 2016.
Shanna Cleveland, a CLF attorney, termed Keenan’s action “unconstitutional and unconscionable.” It is a “Hail Mary pass,” she said, that could not withstand judicial review.
Keenan said he took the dramatic, and possibly unprecedented, step of trying to block legal appeals to this project because he feels construction of the 692-megawatt plant is a pressing public safety issue on a tight time line.
“I believe if the plant is not built by June 2016, there is a real potential for rolling brownouts,” he said.
As supporting evidence, Keenan pointed to a statement made this summer by an official at ISO New England, managers of the regional electricity grid.
“CLF claims that Footprint ‘is not necessary to ensure the continued supply of electricity to the region.’ CLF is simply wrong,” ISO’s General Counsel Raymond Hepper and another agency lawyer stated in an August letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Without Footprint, there would be a shortage of capacity in the (region) for the 2016 through 2017 commitment period. In other words, without Footprint, the (region) would not meet reliability standards.”