NEW YORK—Quebec’s defense of the Great Whale project here appears to have backfired.

For a couple of years now the Quebec government had taken a back seat in the controversy, choosing to let Hydro-Quebec defend itself in New York against attacks by the Crees and U S. environmentalists over its Great Whale project.

Then in March, the Quebec delegation in New York decided to go on the attack. Reed Scowen, Quebec’s delegate-general for the northeastern United States, speaking at a breakfast at the ritzy Americas Society on Park Ave. in Manhattan, delivered a scathing broadside against U.S. environmentalists.

“The contribution of U.S. environmental groups to the energy debate in Quebec has been at [an] appalling and senseless level,” Scowen said. And he said environmental groups are using the Great Whale issue “for one purpose only—fundraising.”

As evidence, Scowen cited the lack of commitment to the issue by Bobby Kennedy Jr., who works with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Their media star, Robert Kennedy Jr., has found more interesting photo opportunities in British Columbia,” Scowen said.

But David Freeman, president of the New York Power Authority, one of Hydro-Quebec’s biggest American customers, says the attack has increased his suspicion of the Quebec government’s motives.

“To question the motives of Bobby Kennedy Jr., whom I’ve worked with for 20 years, is a bit much,” Freeman said.

In the past two years, the Power Authority has cancelled $18 billion U.S. in contracts for electricity from Hydro-Quebec. And in April, Con Edison, after discussing environmental and native issues with its stockholders, put an 18-month moratorium on talking to Hydro-Quebec about electricity purchases.

Hydro-Quebec, meanwhile, points out that its sales outside Quebec last year increased by almost 20 percent, reaching 15.5 billion kilowatt-hours. Sales to the United States accounted for 87 per cent of those exports.

Scowen said his attack strategy was well-thought-out, and successful.

“We made a conscious decision to respond to their in-your-face aggressive remarks with the same kind of reply. It was discussed, it was thought about and that was the decision we made, and it worked. Since then there has been almost a total absence of this kind of rhetoric coming from the N RDC or any of the other agencies. ”

But Freeman says Scowen’s comments failed to convince him that the Quebec government can impartially arbitrate the conflict between the James Bay Crees and Hydro-Quebec. “For the first time it raised the question in my mind, when he launched this diatribe against my friends in the environmental movement—is he up with the judges or down in the gutter slugging it out with the Crees?”

“It seemed to me that he was taking off his robes and getting down in the gutter to slug it out, which disturbed me.”