Mueser Questions Hebert's Objectivity in Alabama Project
Environmental activist Anne Marie Mueser, taking her battle
against Sonat's northern Alabama extension one step further, has
accused Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr. of potentially compromising
his impartiality in the case by corresponding with the pipeline and
other supporters of the project. She suggested that Hebert, who
voted for an amended certificate for the Sonat project last week,
should have considered recusing himself from the case [see related
In an Oct. 21 letter to Hebert, she questioned the
commissioner's objectivity in the wake of his "thank you" letters
to officials of Sonat and two Alabama utilities in which he wrote
that, while he couldn't comment on the merits of the case, he felt
"very strongly" about the issues the parties raised and would
"carefully consider" their points.
"Your somewhat unusual correspondence with the applicant [Sonat]
and two supporting parties remains unexplained and
discomforting...and presents potential questions about your
continuing objectivity" in the case, wrote Mueser, chairman of the
GASP Coalition, which represents landowners.
But for Hebert, sending "generic" letters to those who write him
is "customary and actually good protocol as a commissioner...I've
always done that and will continue to do so. It doesn't show any
prejudice whatsoever because it is a generic letter." He said he
included his correspondence with the parties in the Sonat case
file to avoid any concerns about violating ex parte rules. Hebert
didn't think serving copies of his letter to all parties in the
proceeding was necessary, as Mueser had suggested.
In response to Mueser's critical letter, Hebert's staff on Oct.
23 sent her "the same [thank-you] letter that they sent the
others...exactly word for word," she told NGI. Hebert said he also
included this letter in the Sonat case file. "But this commissioner
doesn't get it. It is not appropriate for a sitting commissioner to
be corresponding with an applicant or any active parties to a
contested proceeding," including herself. "It's just off the wall.
I'm a veteran of the Iroquois [proceedings]. And I have never seen
anything quite as bizarre as this."
Should he have recused himself from the Sonat case? "If his
letter to the two utilities and to the applicant were some sort of
a hidden signal that 'Don't worry folks I'm with you,' absolutely
he should [have recused] himself. But I can't get into his head,"
Mueser said. "If Commissioner Hebert thinks that I am going to drop
this issue, which I think has to do with the integrity of the
process, I will not. And sending me the same letter just doesn't
cut it." Susan Parker
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