REPORT

Natural gas infrastructure lobby ramps up spending in New York State

In the period of time since New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo took office in January 2011, companies planning natural gas pipelines and power plants ramped up lobbying efforts, increasing their spending on political influence in Albany and hiring advocates close to Cuomo’s family and administration.

Cuomo, who was elected amid a heated debate over whether to ban hydraulic fracturing, garnered praise from environmental groups when his administration enacted a ban in 2014. That year he also launched an initiative, called Reforming the Energy Vision, to reduce greenhouse emissions by 40% and to generate 50% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, however, fossil fuel companies were planning a massive expansion of infrastructure meant to increase consumption of natural gas, claiming that more natural gas infrastructure in New York and across the Northeast would lower energy costs and reduce pollution from greenhouse gases.

The projects examined below, which threaten to undermine Governor Cuomo’s stated goal of transitioning the state to renewable and zero carbon energy sources, are being advocated by lobbyists with close ties to the governor, presumably leveraging their relationships with Cuomo in hopes of dissuading the state from imposing further hurdles to projects that conflict with the governor’s energy agenda.

This report analyzes the industry’s effort to influence the Cuomo administration with its cadre of well-connected lobbyists.

Key findings

  • The companies behind major natural gas infrastructure projects spent $1.3 million on lobbying in New York State government in 2015, a nearly 119% increase from the $578,454 spent in 2011.
  • Lobbying expenditures have increased nearly 18% from 2014 to 2015.
  • Natural gas lobbying firms and their leadership have contributed at least $513,869 to Cuomo since 2006.
  • Three top lobbyists at the firms hired by the natural gas industry have ties to Andrew Cuomo through his late father, Mario Cuomo. Another served as the Executive Director of Republicans for Cuomo, and two partners from the same lobbying firm previously served as assistant counsel to Cuomo.

New natural gas infrastructure planned for New York

Natural gas companies have planned a massive infrastructure expansion in the northeast United States, with 523 miles of new pipelines planned for New York State and neighboring states as well as the construction or conversion of three new natural gas power plants in New York. These projects aim to transport and burn billions of cubic feet of natural gas produced via hydraulic fracturing.

PAI analyzed six of the largest natural gas infrastructure projects planned for New York State, including three planned pipelines and three planned power plants. Other infrastructure projects, such as smaller pipelines and ultimately abandoned power plant conversions, were not included in this report.

Pipelines:

  • Northeast Energy Direct Project
    Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct project would mandate the construction of two pipelines carrying 1.2 billion and 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas daily to various points across the Northeast. Kinder Morgan filed an application for FERC to approve the project on November 20, 2015; New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation must issue water and air permits for the project before its construction can begin.
  • Constitution Project Pipeline
    The Constitution Pipeline, owned by Williams Companies (41 percent ownership share), Cabot Oil and Gas (25 percent), Piedmont Natural Gas (24 percent), and WGL Holding (10 percent), was approved by FERC on December 2, 2014 and is set to transport 650 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Following delays by New York’s DEC to issue a water permit, Constitution now projects its start of service will be in the second half of 2017.
  • Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project
    Spectra’s Algonquin pipeline was already under construction for four months when Governor Cuomo asked that FERC suspend its buildout until an “independent study” could evaluate its potential risks, including its proximity to the nuclear power plant Indian Point. According to Spectra, the upgraded Algonquin pipeline would transport 342 million cubic feet of natural gas per day up from Westchester County and across the Northeast.

Power plants:

  • Kinder Morgan power plant
    Kinder Morgan’s filing with FERC for the Northeast Energy Direct project makes reference to its agreement with a company to “construct a natural gas-fired electric generating facility” in New York, which would be a customer for the gas transported by the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. The power plant would generate approximately 1,500 megawatts of power, according to the Times Union.
  • CPV Valley Energy Center
    CPV Valley Energy Center and Siemens Corporation are partnering to build a natural gas-fueled combined cycle power plant in Wawayanda, Orange County, that will generate up to 675 megawatts of power.
  • Greenidge power plant
    Greenidge Generation LLC, a subsidiary of Atlas Holdings, wants to convert its former coal plant in Dresden, Yates County, to a natural gas plant with a maximum generating capacity of 107 megawatts.

Natural gas infrastructure lobbying ramps up

As Governor Cuomo was considering banning fracking for gas production, companies planning pipelines and power plants ramped up their spending on lobbyists with ties to the governor’s family and administration. Since 2011, the companies behind these projects spent a combined $4.5 million on lobbying, with an average increase of 17% every year. In 2015, the companies spent a total of $1.3 million lobbying the New York State government, a 119% increase from the $578,454 spent in 2011. Lobbying expenditures by individual company are detailed in Table 1, below.

Table 1. Natural Gas Infrastructure Lobbying Expenditures

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Increase since 2011 Increase since 2014
Williams Companies
(Constitution Pipeline)
$251,478 $302,233 $311,300 $221,000 $206,000 -18.08% -6.79%
Kinder Morgan
(Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline & Power Plant)
$0 $0 $0 $75,000 $115,000 * 53.33%
Spectra Energy
(Algonquin Pipeline)
$326,976 $365,369 $564,000 $591,370 $673,000 105.83% 13.80%
Greenidge Generation
(Greenidge Power Plant)
$0 $0 $0 $156,400 $240,000 * 53.45%
CPV Valley LLC
(Hudson Valley Power Plant)
$0 $17,831 $25,543 $30,767 $30,654 * -0.37%
Total $578,454 $685,433 $900,843 $1,074,537 $1,264,654 118.63% 17.69%

* Individual increase since 2011 unavailable since company’s lobbying expenditures were $0 that year

Source: New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics Lobbying Database

As can be seen in the table above, companies were not deterred by the state’s decision to ban fracking – lobbying spending continued to rise in the decision’s wake, increasing nearly 18% from 2014 to 2015.

Notably, Kinder Morgan, the company behind the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline and the proposed 1,500 megawatt plant, boosted its lobbying efforts 53% from 2014 to 2015, as it launched a promotional blitz for FERC and state environmental departments to approve the project.

Lobbyists have ties to Cuomo family and administration

The companies planning large natural gas infrastructure projects in New York have hired lobbyists with close associations to Governor Andrew Cuomo and his family.

These firms, their PACs, and their leadership have given over half a million dollars to Cuomo since 2006.

Spectra and the Algonquin Pipeline

Spectra Energy has spent $3.19 million on lobbyists in New York since 2007 and was the eighth highest spender on lobbying fees in New York in 2014.

Ostroff Associates, Inc

From 2007 to 2013, Spectra spent $880,780 to retain Ostroff Associates, whose founder, Rick Ostroff, served as a legislative affairs assistant to Mario Cuomo. Ostroff has given $134,578 to Andrew Cuomo since 2008, and funnelled an additional $47,500 to the New York State Democratic Committee, a Democratic slush fund regarded as a vehicle for Cuomo’s agenda.

Ostroff’s wife Jana was the Executive Director of the governor’s mansion from 2011 to 2012. She donated $15,000 to Cuomo in 2006.

CDD Strategies

In 2013 Spectra began retaining CDD Strategies, a lobbying firm founded by Christian DiPalermo, at an average rate of $268,000 per year. Prior to starting CDD Strategies, DiPalermo was a lobbyist for TLM Associates, where he was on a team retained by Spectra to lobby for a Spectra gas pipeline proposal.

For a lobbyist with a major industry client, DiPalermo’s resumé is full of environmental bona fides. He was the former executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, a parks advocacy non-profit, and a former board member of the influential New York League of Conservation Voters. He now sits on the board of the Long Island chapter of the NYLCV, where his profile reads more like a client pitch:

Christian has maintained long-standing relationships with and has direct access to lawmakers and government officials in the New York City metropolitan area, the Lower Hudson Valley and surrounding suburbs.

The NYCLV, which endorsed Andrew Cuomo in his 2014 reelection bid, also spent $600,000 backing State Senate candidate Mark Grisanti, much of which came from Michael Bloomberg and Republican Cuomo supporters. Grisanti was seen as important to maintaining a Republican majority in the New York State Senate, which was speculated to be a covert goal of Cuomo’s, who did not endorse Grisanti’s Democratic challenger.

Con Edison and Chesapeake

Spectra’s Algonquin pipeline is part of a 2010 deal with Con Edison and Chesapeake, which have given generously to Cuomo initiatives. The former gave $250,000 to the governor’s “secret slush fund,” the Committee to Save New York. Carl Icahn, is the largest shareholder in Chesapeake with an 11% stake and gave Cuomo $50,000 between December 2012 and March 2013, not long after he bought the shares.

Williams Companies and the Constitution Pipeline

Oklahoma-based Williams Companies has spent over $2 million on lobbyists in New York since 2007.

Tonio Burgos and Associates

$932,500 – 46% of Williams Companies’ lobbying budget – went to Tonio Burgos and Associates, whose head, Tonio Burgos, served as Mario Cuomo’s “patronage chief” and later as his director of executive services. Burgos has personally donated $80,800 to Andrew Cuomo since 2005, and he helped recruit donors to a 2012 fundraiser that Cuomo hosted for the Democratic Governors Association to bring in funds for his administration as well as other Democratic governors from around the country.

Another top lobbyist at Burgos and Associates, Senior Director John Charlson, began his career in the Mario Cuomo administration. Charlson’s bio boasts of numerous positions within the Cuomo administration as well as extensive travel alongside the governor, including international trips to promote “New York’s trade relations with government and business leaders.”

The firm Tonio Burgos & Associates donated a whopping $156,800 to Cuomo from 2006 to 2015, and also gave $4,000 to the New York State Democratic Committee.

The Constitution Pipeline was approved by FERC in 2014, which may account for Williams Companies’ 7% decline in lobbying spending from 2014 to 2015.

Kinder Morgan and Northeast Energy Direct

Kinder Morgan ramped up its lobbying in 2014, hiring one firm, Statewide Public Affairs, for $190,000 over the last two years.

Statewide Public Affairs

SPA assigned lobbyists Tynan Mills and Roy Lasky to lobby on behalf of Kinder Morgan.

Mills was a regional coordinator for the New York State Assembly and a campaign coordinator for the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee. SPA partner Roy Lasky formerly headed the New York State Dental Association, a membership organization that represents thousands of dentists state-wide. A 2008 New York Times article title “Dental Decay in Albany” profiled how Lasky’s generous giving through the Empire Dental Association PAC led to connections within the legislature that helped shield him from the scrutiny of his dues paying members, who were questioning his $300,000 salary.

SPA’s top brass is drawn through the revolving door from the New York State Assembly: Managing Director Chris Duryea got his start in Albany working for former democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky; Jim Quent, a partner at SPA, was deputy chief of staff to the now deposed Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver; and SPA Partner Kevin Banes was legislative director for democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill.

Atlas Holdings and the Greenidge power station

Mercury Public Affairs

Greenidge retained Mercury Public Affairs for $396,400 from 2014 to 2015. Mercury partner Michael McKeon, who is ranked as a top power broker in Albany, served as the Executive Director of Republicans for Cuomo and personally donated $8,000 to his campaign. After joining Mercury, McKeon was chosen as the spokesperson for the Committee to Save New York, the governor’s slush fund that disbanded in 2013.

Other Cuomo aides have cycled through the firm, including Morris Reid, now based in Mercury's London and Washington D.C. offices, who was once a senior staff aide to Cuomo when the governor was Housing Secretary; Karen Hinton, the wife of former State Operations Director Howard Glaser, who was critical to Cuomo’s fracking decision and is still a close friend; and Erick Mullen, a former aide to Cuomo during his first run for the governorship.

MPAC, Mercury Public Affairs’ political action committee, has donated $11,850 to Cuomo since 2007.

Atlas Holdings

The two managing partners at Atlas Holdings LLC, the parent company of power plant owner Greenidge Generation, personally donated $70,000 to Cuomo during his last gubernatorial campaign: Andrew Bursky donated $25,000 and Timothy Fazio gave $45,000. Atlas Holdings itself donated $25,000 to the governor, and the company’s Public Affairs and Communications Principal, David Filippelli, donated $1,000, bringing the total from Atlas to Cuomo to $96,000.

CPV Valley LLC, Siemens, and the CPV Valley Energy Center

Whiteman Osterman & Hanna

CPV Valley LLC retained Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, a firm with an active revolving door with the Cuomo administration.

Partner John Regan served as an Assistant Counsel to Andrew Cuomo and as Associate Deputy Counsel for State Operations until February 2015, when he joined Whiteman. Meanwhile, the governor’s Deputy Counsel at the Department of Financial Services, Nathaniel Dorfman, was previously a partner at Whiteman. Before that, Dorfman also worked in the governor’s office as Assistant Counsel for tax, labor, and workers' compensation.

Partner Scott Fein was a member of the governor’s task force to reform state authorities — a position to which he was appointed in 2009, but remained during Cuomo’s tenure — as well as a member of the advisory counsel to the Authorities Budget Office. Another partner at the firm, Norma Meacham, is a governor appointee to the Judicial Screening Panel for the third department of New York State’s appellate division.

Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP has donated $26,854 to Cuomo since 2006.

Bolton St. Johns

Siemens Corporation is a partner in the CPV Valley Energy Center project. Since their lobbying expenditures were not broken down by specific project those totals were not included in the above table. However, they have an ongoing lobbying relationship with the Cuomo-connected lobbying firm Bolton St. Johns, having spent an average of $100,388 per year since 2007 to retain the firm.

Bolton’s top lobbyist, Giorgio DeRosa, is the father of Cuomo’s Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa and wife of one-time Cuomo patronage chief Maureen DeRosa. Giorgio DeRosa lobbied against the fracking moratorium for the Pipe Trades Association and American Petroleum Institute, and lobbied for Bluestone Gas around its Broome County pipeline. The most recent lobbying disclosure for Bolton show DeRosa was still lobbying for API. He has personally given $10,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns, and given $14,018.94 to his Bolton St. Johns political action committee, BOLT-PAC, which donated $12,000 to the governor.

Another key lobbyist at Bolton St. John’s, Emily Giske, has given $6,250 to Cuomo’s campaigns and volunteered to coordinate floor operations during Cuomo’s campaign for attorney general. She joined DeRosa on the team lobbying on behalf of API in the most recent lobbying cycle for which there are filings.

Bolton St. Johns has donated $42,500 to the governor.

The relationships that infrastructure lobbyists to the Cuomo administration and his family can be seen in the map embedded below.

About the Public Accountability Initiative

The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) is a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational organization focused on corporate and government accountability. In addition to publishing research on critical public accountability issues, PAI maintains LittleSis.org, an involuntary facebook of powerful people and tool for power research that was used to compile date for this report. PAI’s work is funded by a variety of non-profit sources. PAI’s research on the oil and gas industry and fracking is funded by the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation and the Park Foundation.

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4 Responses to Natural gas infrastructure lobby ramps up spending in New York State

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