Exec council delays air panel reappointment
The Executive Council has put the reappointment of the presiding officer of the state Air Resources Council on hold, an action that may delay deliberations over whether to allow installation of a mercury scrubber at Public Service of New Hampshire’s coal-burning power plant in Bow.
On Wednesday, some members of the council asked to postpone voting on the reappointment of Raymond Donald, citing a potential conflict of interest.
For his part, Donald – who worked as a quality assurance manager at the Seabrook nuclear power plant when it was owned by PSNH — said that the council might cancel a meeting of the council that was scheduled to be held Monday. The meeting agenda included – among other things – a vote over whether Donald should be disqualified from participating in the scrubber decision.
“It’s scheduled, but I’m not sure if it will be held, because my term expired Oct, 24,” Donald told NHBR. When asked as to who will be making the decision, Donald said, “It will be a group therapy kind of thing, with legal advisers and other board members, and we will do what is appropriate.”
Catherine Corkery, director of the New Hampshire chapter of the Sierra Club and an opponent of the scrubber who originally raised the possibility of Donald’s conflict of interest, called the decision to delay that vote “manipulative.”
“The appeal started in March, and I feel as though they are intentionally delaying it,” Corkery said.
It was the Sierra Club’s last-minute letter to the Executive Council that caused the board – on a 5-0 vote — to table Donald’s reappointment on Wednesday.
Donald, now a building inspector in East Kingston, holds his post as a member representing the interests of municipalities. He has served on the council since 1996, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Stephen Merrill, while he was still working at Seabrook. He retired from the power plant in 1999, but he still draws a pension from his work there.
The Air Quality Council is the main battleground over the $500 million scrubber, which PSNH plans to build to meet air-quality standards. Opponents say it costs too much and that it might be better to scrap the plant and invest the money in renewable energy and conservation.
The council has been beset by conflict-of-interest charges from the start of its deliberations. Six members of the 11-member of the board have already recused themselves, three because of direct connections with PSNH — including Robert Duval, the board’s chair. Donald did not say he worked for PSNH, but he did put down on a 2006 disclosure form that he once worked at the Seabrook plant.
The Sierra Club, however, made a motion that Donald should be disqualified after he ruled against the club’s discovery motion concerning work done in 2008 on a new turbine. The Sierra Club maintains that the turbine is a new source of pollution and is related to the scrubber issue. PSNH said that the two are separate issues, and besides the documents were confidential.
That’s when the Sierra Club discovered that Donald worked at Seabrook, without saying whether he was connected to PSNH.
After some back and forth, PSNH then revealed Donald’s employment history, which Donald confirmed to NHBR, while adding a few details.
Donald worked at Seabrook on and off beginning in 1974, a few years with the Pullman Power Products Corp., a contractor at the plant, but he mostly worked as quality assurance manager for the New Hampshire Yankee Division, which reported to PSNH until 1986.
After PSNH’s bankruptcy and reorganization, he worked as a quality assurance auditor – not a management position, he emphasized – until Jan. 1, 2000. At the time, Northeast Utilities, PSNH’s parent company, was a part-owner of the power plant. NU has since sold its interest in the plant.
During his tenure, Donald’s worked on the plant’s response to environmental regulations by the state Department of Environmental Services, of which the Air Resources Council is part, though it is an independent appeal board to oversee DES decisions.
At first, Donald said, “Yeah, I did have some air quality issues,” while he was an auditor, but then said it essentially involved “monitoring for radioactive release” and that “he was not involved with anything to do with air,” but then added that he might have faced air-related issues, since it was such a long time ago.
Whether Donald had connections to PSNH during the first three years of his tenure on the Air Quality Council is a question “for the lawyers to decide,” he said, but he did “put it on the form” when he was appointed to the position, so he said the information was there for everybody to know about it.
Executive Councilor Beverly Hollingworth, who made the motion to table Donald’s reappointment, wants to know what was disclosed when, and decisions Donald participated in, especially when Donald was still working at Seabrook. But decisions since then are relevant as well, particularly this one, when the board is down to five members, and Donald is the presiding officer, Hollingworth said.
Hollingworth might be willing to vote to reappoint Donald if he refrained from voting on issues that affect PSNH, but “if that is too many things, it may be better that he not serve.”
At the Executive Council meeting, Hollingworth asked Attorney General Michael Delaney to look into whether there was a violation of conflict-of-interest laws. Delaney said he plans to do so and offer his opinion on the matter.
Corkery contended that Donald is biased, that he sides with PSNH against opponents of the scrubber without even seeming to read the Sierra Club’s filings. And she insisted that disclosing that he worked on Seabrook to the Executive Council and on a disclosure form, was not enough, especially when the majority of members of the board were recusing themselves because of a conflict of interest.
“We are disappointed in this process and his behavior. He is the oldest serving member of the board, and other members wouldn’t necessarily know if he had worked there. I didn’t know it, and he didn’t bring it up. It is incumbent on him, not me, to find out what his conflicts are,” she said.
But Donald said there was no conflict, since he was never a supervisor at PSNH, much less an executive.
And, he said, despite the Sierra Club’s effort to disqualify him, “I’m trying to be open-minded.” The Sierra Club, he said, is trying “to sell their product, but I’m going to look at what is legal and what can be done according to the regulations. As long as I’m involved, I’m going to stay as unbiased as I can possibly be.”
Corkery said she didn’t know what products Sierra Club is trying to sell – “We’ve got calendars, but that’s about it” – but she said that his statements are further evidence that “this is not a fair and transparent process. And that’s why we are asking to deny his reappointment to the board.” – BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW