By William Opalka
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Friday demanded that FERC investigate Constitution Pipeline for alleged tree cutting and other construction activities in defiance of a commission order (CP13-499).
Schneiderman successfully petitioned FERC in January to delay construction along the New York segment of the 124-mile route until state environmental officials had issued a water quality permit. That permit, required under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, was denied last month. (See New York Environmental Department Rejects Constitution Pipeline.)
The pipeline is intended to bring shale gas from the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania into the New York and New England markets.
“My office has found compelling evidence that Constitution not only ignored widespread, unpermitted construction along its pipeline right-of-way corridor, but even authorized, encouraged or condoned it. Constitution also did not report this activity to FERC or to the state. FERC must take strong enforcement action against Constitution to ensure that pipeline companies know they can’t simply thumb their nose at laws that protect New York’s landowners, communities and environment,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Schneiderman called for an investigation and an enforcement action by FERC for alleged violations of the Natural Gas Act that could subject the pipeline developers to fines of up to $1 million per day. He also asked for a stay of the FERC order from December 2014 that approved the pipeline.
In a two-month investigation, the attorney general’s office said it collected evidence of widespread clear-cutting, road building and heavy equipment use adjacent to state-protected streams and wetlands along the pipeline’s right of way in three counties. State environmental officials said the pipeline route includes about 250 stream crossings, dozens of which are critical to protecting trout.
Constitution spokesman Tom Droege denied the allegations in a statement and suggested landowners may have cut trees on their own.
“Constitution received the complaint late Friday and is undertaking a careful review of the allegations made by the New York attorney general. Constitution intends to vigorously defend its actions in connection with the project, as such actions were conducted within the bounds of applicable laws and regulations,” he wrote. “Constitution did not cut any trees in New York without permits, as FERC confirmed after it conducted an investigation of reports that trees were being cut. Constitution never advised nor encouraged landowners to cut trees on their properties. Landowners retain the right to use their properties after Constitution obtains easements, and Constitution only obtains the right to construct and operate its facilities.”
On Jan. 29, FERC delayed tree cutting in New York, but Schneiderman said the developer did not inform landowners of that fact. Instead, it told them the following day that it intended to begin construction in the spring, “leading some New York landowners to reasonably conclude that pipeline construction on the right of way in New York was imminent and prompting them to prematurely harvest timber within the right of way on their property in order to save the timber’s monetary value.”
Constitution is a partnership of Williams Partners and its co-developers, Cabot Oil & Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and WGL Holdings. The developers have said they intend to file a legal challenge to the denial of the water quality permit.