There are three major energy companies in Florida, which have formed a partnership to build a 474 mile underground natural gas pipeline, from Alabama and Georgia to a hub south of Orlando. The underground pipeline will be a joint venture owned by Spectra Energy (59.5 percent), Florida Power & Light parent NextEra Energy (33 percent), and Duke Energy (7.5 percent). Spectra Energy and Duke Energy have a history of accidents and violations, but the Florida Department of Environment Protection is backing the award of a key environmental permit.
The case began flying through the courts, when the Sabal Trail attorneys invoked a law that Governor Scott signed in May 2013, which speeds up the permitting process for the construction of interstate natural gas pipelines. Under the law, challenges to new pipelines must be heard within 30 days. As the companies’ lawyers continue to push this case through the courts, there has been only one public hearing on the building of this pipeline.
The WWALS Watershed Coalition, a Georgia based nonprofit and environment advocate, filed an objection to the permit, that is making the DEP review their decisions about backing the permit. The WWALS petition contends the pipeline poses threats to native wildlife, including threatened species, and argues that proposed drilling into the area’s karst limestone to lay pipe could cause new sinkholes to form.
The Watershed group is also raising other questions about Scott’s involvement in the pipeline project. Governor Scott, as a trustee of the state board that owns the land beneath the rivers, has a conflict of interest due to his financial investment in Spectra Energy and Williams Company, owner of the Transco pipeline from which Sabal plans to obtain the gas.
Maybe this is a coincident, and all of Scott’s business deals are in a blind trust, and he has no idea that his companies are involved in the deal. But there is something rotten about this deal. To begin with, the governor and other public officials are prohibited by state ethics laws from owning stock in businesses that do business with state agencies.
But during Scott’s first term, the governor acquired substantial investments in the natural gas industry. His holdings included stock in Spectra Energy, and more than two-dozen companies that produce and transport natural gas in different Florida counties. It appears that Scott owns a percentage in all the major natural gas pipelines in the state of Florida.
Scott has declined to be interviewed about these matters, because all his holdings are in his blind trust. According to Scott, he has no knowledge of the current contents of his blind trust, because they are being managed and controlled by his trustees.
Based on the information that our governor has shared with the media, he claims there is no conflict of interest, because he is neither aware of nor managing his holdings. But, it is very difficult to believe our governor, because he has a record of appearing to break the law. There is a need for an investigation into Scott’s business connections with all the natural gas pipelines, since he became governor. It appears that Scott is making billions as a governor of Florida in the natural gas business, and most of the deals appear to be a conflict of interest.
Roger Caldwell, a community activist, author, journalist, radio host and CEO of On Point Media Group, lives in Orlando. His book, The Inspiring Journey of a Stroke Survivor, details the story of his recovery from a massive stroke. He may be reached at email@example.com