Court: FERC acted rashly in pipeline decision

Local environmental advocates: Damage is done, but ruling will protect the future

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Lotorto says compressor barely used

MILFORD — Greg Lotorto of Dingman did some research that made him question whether Columbia Gas really needs to upgrade its compressor station, a project that has upset neighbors over noise and fumes.
He told Milford supervisors Monday that the first compressor station proposed for an upgrade operated for only 149.5 hours in 2012. The second compressor operated a mere 13 hours that same year, he said.
Lotorto compared the Tennessee Gas Pipeline company’s methodology to that of someone building a house by getting permits for one room at a time — first by asking to build just a bathroom, and then just a kitchen, and then a dining room, den, and so on.
Quick said this was an excellent analogy.
Lotoro also said that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was wrong in accepting Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s segmentation of its recent construction project through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on a lawsuit brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Sierra Club of New Jersey.
The decision also said the pipeline should have been presented as a whole, which would have triggered a more inclusive Environmental Impact Study than the much simpler Environmental Analysis done on the project. The ruling also called FERC’s Environmental Analysis “deficient in its failure to include any meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of the upgrade projects.” (See related story.)
Lotorto said that since the compressor upgrade is in response to the increased capacity by Tennessee Gas, the compressor should have been included as part of the pipeline project. He urges the public to send their comments to the PA Department of Environmental Protection and to FERC.
Lotorto said that if Milford was not going to issue its own ordinance, the township needs to enforce its own regulations, and demand that Columbia Gas come in for a hearing.
By Charles Reynolds

— In a decision issued June 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruled that the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the N.J. Sierra Club and New Jersey Highlands Coalition were correct in their legal challenge to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s Northeast Upgrade Project and ordered additional analysis and review.

The court said the project should not have been considered in piecemeal fashion, which concealed the true impact such a large project would have on the environment.

The Court said:
“On the record before us, we hold that in conducting its environmental review of the Northeast Project without considering the other connected, closely related, and interdependent projects on the Eastern Leg, FERC impermissibly segmented the environmental review in violation of NEPA. We also find that FERC’s (Environmental Analysis) is deficient in its failure to include any meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of the upgrade projects. We therefore grant the petition for review and remand the case to the Commission for further consideration of segmentation and cumulative impacts.

“On the record before us, we find that FERC acted arbitrarily in deciding to evaluate the environment effects of the Northeast Project independent of the other connected action on the Eastern Leg.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a seven-mile loop around the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area, cutting a 100-foot swath through the forest and across streams, to install 30-inch gas pipeline that critics say has devastated a sublime natural landscape. The Pike County Conservation District issued 21 notices of violation to Tennessee Gas, including “illegal discharges of sediment" into Savantine Creek, Lords Creek, Shohola Creek, Walker Lake Creek, Twin Lakes Creek, Craft Brook, the Lackawaxen River and several wetlands linked to a Tennessee Gas pipeline.

“This is important vindication of the rights of our communities and environment to be honestly considered and protected by our federal agencies," said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said about the recent court decision. "FERC has been allowing illegal segmentation by pipeline companies for years, it has ignored the pleas of the public for equity and for honest review of impacts, and as such FERC has been complicit with the pipeline companies in their ongoing efforts to avoid the rule of law and to ignore the devastating impacts they are having on our environment, impacts that will harm not just present, but also future generations. It is rewarding that a federal court has finally held FERC to account.”

A piecemeal approach

FERC authorized construction and operation of the Northeast Upgrade Project in May 2012. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the N.J. Sierra Club and New Jersey Highlands Coalition argued that the approval was inappropriate because FERC had illegally segmented its environmental review of the Northeast Project by failing to consider three other connected and interdependent projects — the 300 Line Project, the Northeast Supply Diversification Project, the MPP Project — and by failing to provide a meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of the projects.

The case was argued before the Court of Appeals by Delaware Riverkeeper Network attorney Aaron Stemplewicz, who said the decision "should put other pipeline companies on notice that the practice of segmenting pipeline projects before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will no longer be tolerated, and that the cumulative environmental impacts resulting from these projects must be fully considered before a project is approved.”

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, call the decision "a victory for clean water and environmental regulation over a fossil fuel pipeline. This is the first time the Court sided with the environment over a gas company but more importantly it sends a clear message to FERC that they cannot ignore the environment. We see this as a critically important precedent that will now require FERC to look at the real environmental issues of the projects they review."

Maya van Rossum said the ruling came too late for "the communities, forests, streams, wetlands and critters impacted by the four projects at issue here." But, she said, "we will be able to press for important mitigation and efforts to undo the harms already inflicted, but as for avoiding the full array of harms, that is now impossible. FERC needed to do its job when it had the opportunity — but they were too busy servicing the gas pipeline companies to care.”

“We are relieved," said Julia Somers, executive director of New Jersey Highlands Coalition, "and celebrating the fact that the Court saw through the insidious attempt to bypass needed environmental oversight and regulation by segmenting the project in an attempt to hide the true environmental impacts.”

All three justices ruling on this case concurred on the final judgment.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s Northeast Upgrade Project is an interstate transmission line upgrade that included pipeline drilling under the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, significant new grading and clearing of previously undisturbed forested land and steep slopes, 90 stream crossings, 136 wetland crossings, and 450 acres of land development within the Delaware River watershed alone. Highpoint State Park and Delaware State Forest are among the public lands that have been damaged by the project.

See related story, "Lotorto says compressor barely used," on page 3.

Related stories on The Courier online:

"Pipeline appeal fails, cutting begins":

"Natural gas companies forge ahead":

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