Group seeks access to documents about New England energy plans

The Conservation Law Foundation is asking for access to more documents about energy plans in New England that the group says are shrouded in secrecy.

The July 9 public records request of the Vermont Public Service Department and the governor's office seeks copies of records related to electric system transmission, gas pipeline capacity and electricity imports from Canada.

"The public has a right to see the analysis behind the development of these plans," Conservation Law Foundation Senior Attorney Sandra Levine said.

The foundation received some documents from its initial requests filed in March but Vermont withheld others based on executive privilege protections, which are reserved for high-ranking officials.

Levine said that while the state promptly responded to the request, the group remains concerned because it doesn't know the specifics of the documents that were withheld.

The documents released so far, the foundation says, prove the states and the New England States Committee on Electricity are working out details on energy distribution in secret and "self-interested industry insiders" are shaping the plans.

But department Commissioner Chris Recchia says the foundation's conclusions aren't a "fair criticism."

"I think CLF thinks decisions are farther along than they really are," Recchia said.

The public will be more involved when the planning process is further along, he said. "Right now we don't even have anything to propose."

The department is reviewing the documents and Recchia says he hopes to respond to the foundation's request this week. A response from Gov. Peter Shumlin's office is expected by Friday.

The foundation is also asking for documents from the New England States Committee on Electricity, an organization representing the interests of six states on regional electricity topics. The committee said in a statement Monday that its records are not subject to release because it is a not-for-profit corporation. Committee officials also said they have no decision-making authority.

"We add for clarity in light of misinformation that CLF has provided to the press that NESCOE does not produce an energy plan," the statement said.

The Conservation Law Foundation maintained that Vermont law compels the committee to release the material as custodians of a public record.

"NESCOE works as an arm of the state governments and is responsible to comply with Vermont's Access to Public Records laws," Levine said in an email. "It is unfortunate that NESCOE is not voluntarily meeting its obligations under those laws."