A 474-mile natural gas pipeline could run from Alabama through Georgia and into Florida as early as 2017, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott owned stock in the company that’s set to build it.
BrowardBulldog.org revealed this week that a review of Scott’s financial records show investments of several million dollars “in the securities of more than two-dozen entities that produce and/or transport natural gas” including in Spectra Energy, the company in charge of building the Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline — as well as other companies with ties to Florida. His stake in Spectra, according to the financial records, was worth $53,000. Scott’s office says the governor didn’t know of the investment because it was part of a blind trust — so even though the investments go against Florida’s ethics laws, Florida’s “qualified blind trust” statute protects public officials from conflicts of interests if they invest their money through them.
As BrowardBulldog.org reports, the five Scott-appointed members of the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously approved the $3 billion Sabal Trail pipeline, which is slated to transport up to 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day to a Florida Power and Light plant in South Florida in late 2013. But in order for the pipeline to be built, Spectra must still submit proposals to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for approval. The pipeline has raised concerns among environmental groups and residents along the proposed path.
“I’m outraged and disheartened by this news. I feel blindsided,” Beth Gordon, a South Florida resident who helped create SpectraBusters, a group that’s fighting the proposed pipeline, said of the news of the governor’s investments. “The governor’s interest is in getting these companies the permits they need and he’s not interested in the environment.”
GreenLaw, an Atlanta-based law firm, has also voiced concerns about the pipeline and the natural gas compressor stations that will be built along with it. The firm filed objections to the project last week, saying it would be a “major emitter” of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants and would end up harming air quality. The firm is also worried about methane escaping from the pipeline, which would increase the project’s impact on the climate, as well as the pipeline’s impact on Georgia’s protected longleaf pine forests.
“GreenLaw wants to insure that these beautiful tracts of longleaf pine are preserved for future generations,” GreenLaw Executive Director Stephanie Stuckey Benfield said in a statement. “Sabal Trail’s application for an air permit should be denied, and this entire project should be scrapped.”
These environmental concerns were raised earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency. In its initial review of the pipeline in April, the EPA questioned whether or not there were other ways to transport natural gas to the South Florida plant, instead of building a lengthy pipeline that would run across three states. The pipeline’s proposed route would put it close to an existing 10-inch pipeline, which the EPA worried would create a public hazard. The EPA also worried that the pipeline’s path would disturb environmentally-sensitive waterways, like the Flint River.
“EPA requests the proposed action avoid high functioning, high quality, and rare systems,” the letter read, saying that the pipeline’s environmental impact study should identify the most sensitive wetlands in the proposed route, such as the Limesink wetlands in Southwest Georgia.
The agency also noted that the pipeline may not even be necessary, due to the fact that Florida Power and Light consumers have been using less energy since 2005.
John Quarterman, founder of SpectraBusters, said he thinks Florida should pursue renewable energy sources rather than build a natural gas pipeline.
“I’ve never heard of a set of solar panels catching fire and burning or blowing up and throwing a pipe across a highway or in any other way endangering people,” he said.