By William Opalka
FERC set back efforts to stop a natural gas pipeline in New York on Thursday when it refused to rehear its December 2014 approval of the project. (CP13-499)
In a separate ruling Friday, the commission allowed limited tree cutting along the Pennsylvania section of the pipeline route.
FERC dismissed a challenge by project opponent Stop the Pipeline to thwart the Constitution Pipeline project and a related compression station in Wright, N.Y. The project is designed to transport shale gas from the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania, connecting with existing pipelines that serve eastern New York and New England.
“In the 2014 order, the commission found that the benefits the Constitution Pipeline and Wright interconnection projects will provide to the market outweigh any adverse effects on existing shippers, on other pipelines and their captive customers, and on landowners and surrounding communities,” FERC wrote.
FERC had agreed to reconsider the ruling almost a year ago. In the intervening months, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals denied a March 2015 petition by STP to force timely action by FERC. (See Constitution Pipeline Opponents Asks Appeals Court to Force FERC Action.)
The commission rejected complaints that the project failed to demonstrate a public benefit, that there was a lack of opportunities for public input and that the final environmental impact statement was incomplete.
Much of the opposition to the pipeline is now centered on FERC’s approval of the project without a completed permit by state environmental officials under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.
FERC said the lack of a permit is not an “absolute bar” from development activities and that its conditional approval of the project does not allow activities that impair waterways.
At a joint legislative budget hearing at the New York State Capitol in Albany on Thursday, Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos noted Constitution is a significant project with a large number of stream crossings. “I’m not going to pressure my department to move more quickly than they believe is warranted,” he said.
Also, on Friday, the commission granted partial permission to Constitution to proceed with limited tree felling in Pennsylvania only, in a letter from FERC’s Division of Gas – Environment and Engineering. About 25 miles of the 124-mile route is within Pennsylvania, but FERC delayed similar operations in New York. (See New York AG: No Tree Cutting for Pipeline Without Water Quality Permits.)
The letter notes that permission from landowners in Pennsylvania has been granted but does not address the controversy in New York, nor does it explain the prohibition there.
“This letter does not authorize tree felling in New York nor does it authorize the workspace variances in Constitution’s May 19, 2015, and Jan. 8, 2016, requests in New York at this time,” it states. The variances were requested to avoid wetlands or improve work site access.