The Fix on MATEP


To the Editors of The Crimson:

I am writing to reaffirm my deep concern with the decision Commissioner Cortese's office is currently making in regard to the MATEP plant. The issue is complicated and concerns matters that are riven with ambiguity. Nevertheless, I think that an objective view gives not only cause for alarm, but reasons for questioning the proponents' candor and integrity. I think that were this plant proposed by anybody but Harvard University, with their prestige and wealth, it would have long ago been unfavorably disposed of.

I look with dismay at a process where I am told that what are we to do with a close to $250 million investment when I recall being assured that the decision would be at Harvard's own risk. I am angered when I recall the cavalier fashion with which my objections and those of others were dismissed by the Commissioner's office when we warned of the investment being used as a justification for an approval in the future.

I am angered when I hear that DEQE is concerned that its decision not prejudice a future coal conversion plan. In this case a negative MATEP decision becoming a constraining precedent is the issue. What angers me about this is that I recall being told that my concerns with the impact of MATEP on the future economic development of Boston--surely, an analogous issue--was irrelevant and constituted an intrusion of concerns extraneous to the mandate of DEQE.

I hope the decision the Commissioner makes is a fair one. Unfortunately, I am afraid to say that I have little confidence that this will happen. I must stress that I am not saying that either he or his office is in any way acting in bad faith, and yet I feel that 'the fix is in.' Why is this so? Because it has become clear to me that Cortese has gradually and imperceptibly let the policy process become skewed in Harvard's favor.

Harvard has been permitted to appeal Cortese's office's decision five times. It reached that office because it had received approval from other agencies. All of these approvals were based upon particular submissions, engineering specifications, cost estimates, the lot. The Chapter 121A agreement, for example, was based on a cost estimate of $56 million and was premised on the understanding that the plant was justified because it would save the participating hospitals money. Five appeals later, the cost has risen to close to $250 million, and even Harvard now admits that the plant is going to lose money. Why is it that the DEQE appeal process which has helped Harvard to progressivly narrow the decision down to a mere question of hotspots hasn't simultaneously enabled the opponents to widen the evaluation so that we can consider whether the Chapter 121A approval is still justified? In short, whatever the merits may be for a flexible hearing and appeal procedure, that enables the agency to be open enough to consider changes in the proposal--changes that of necessity narrow the subject being considered--must, to be both fair and rational, enable the public and their servants to evaluate the impact of later changes on earlier decisions: the consequences of the narrowing process itself must be a matter of concern in the system of formal review. To put it more colloquially, if Harvard is down to just hot-spots at this point, we should be back to the BRA by now.

Unfortunately, this kind of weak policy process provides a far greater threat to the interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth than any self-interested mendacity could ever do. What is happening to DEQE in the process of making this decision will cause serious harm to the integrity of the agency. This would be a loss. John Grady   Assistant Professor of Sociology, Wheaton College