Environmental activist Anne Marie Mueser, taking her battleagainst Sonat’s northern Alabama extension one step further, hasaccused Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr. of potentially compromisinghis impartiality in the case by corresponding with the pipeline andother supporters of the project. She suggested that Hebert, whovoted for an amended certificate for the Sonat project last week,should have considered recusing himself from the case [see relatedstory].

In an Oct. 21 letter to Hebert, she questioned thecommissioner’s objectivity in the wake of his “thank you” lettersto officials of Sonat and two Alabama utilities in which he wrotethat, 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 anddiscomforting…and presents potential questions about yourcontinuing objectivity” in the case, wrote Mueser, chairman of theGASP Coalition, which represents landowners.

But for Hebert, sending “generic” letters to those who write himis “customary and actually good protocol as a commissioner…I’vealways done that and will continue to do so. It doesn’t show anyprejudice whatsoever because it is a generic letter.” He said heincluded his correspondence with the parties in the Sonat casefile to avoid any concerns about violating ex parte rules. Hebertdidn’t think serving copies of his letter to all parties in theproceeding 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 theothers…exactly word for word,” she told NGI. Hebert said he alsoincluded this letter in the Sonat case file. “But this commissionerdoesn’t get it. It is not appropriate for a sitting commissioner tobe corresponding with an applicant or any active parties to acontested proceeding,” including herself. “It’s just off the wall.I’m a veteran of the Iroquois [proceedings]. And I have never seenanything quite as bizarre as this.”

Should he have recused himself from the Sonat case? “If hisletter to the two utilities and to the applicant were some sort ofa hidden signal that ‘Don’t worry folks I’m with you,’ absolutelyhe should [have recused] himself. But I can’t get into his head,”Mueser said. “If Commissioner Hebert thinks that I am going to dropthis issue, which I think has to do with the integrity of theprocess, I will not. And sending me the same letter just doesn’tcut it.” Susan Parker

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