Sierra Club Attacks FERC for Approving NYC Pipeline

Recently the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the construction of a 20-mile pipeline from New Jersey to New York City (see this MDN story). Spectra Energy is constructing the pipeline to the tune of $1.2 billion (a mini-economic boom for NJ/NY). The new pipeline and the cheap natural gas it will bring to NYC will reduce oil burning, which will be mandated starting in 2015 when NYC residents and landlords will no longer be allowed to burn No. 6 fuel oil. The new pipeline will be the equivalent of taking the emissions of 1 million cars off city streets per year. A good thing, no?

According to Sierra Club, that is a “no.” The Sierra Club doesn’t want cheap natural gas delivered to NYC, saving customers millions of dollars and saving the environment, because they don’t like fracking and the gas will mostly come from the Marcellus Shale. And that doesn’t fit with the the Sierra Club’s “attack everything natural gas” philosophy. So they’ve begun the process of protesting the approval for the pipeline, a process that will eventually end in federal court. Stunningly, in the paperwork they filed last week, they blame FERC for doing its job!

The Sierra Club and other groups have asked FERC to revoke its order granting a certificate to Spectra Energy Corp subsidiaries Texas Eastern Transmission LP and Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC to build the New Jersey-New York Expansion Project, a natural gas pipeline that will run across northern New Jersey and into New York City.

In the June 20 request for rehearing and rescission — filed by the Eastern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, No Gas Pipeline and Food and Water Watch — the groups said the conclusions in the FERC order failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. FERC approved the $1.2 billion project May 21. The groups must file a request for administrative rehearing before turning to the federal courts.

The groups charged FERC with several errors, including that the agency did not sufficiently consider the cumulative and indirect effects of the pipeline project in combination with Marcellus Shale development; that it failed to sufficiently identify environmental justice communities; that it failed to consider the "significant impacts of radon exposure to end users of the natural gas transmitted through the project pipeline"; and that it failed to consider the security risks posed by Stuxnet and other malware.

The groups went even further, challenging the statutory and regulatory framework under which FERC operates.

"The commission … cannot afford constitutionally-adequate due process when it renders decisions on pipeline siting," the groups wrote. "As long as the commission (1) is responsible for the vitality of its own budget, (2) receives a ‘substantial portion’ — in the instant setting, all — of its budgetary income from energy industry entities like pipeline companies, and (3) renders adjudicative decisions wherein it must give due consideration to the alternatives to a pipeline company’s proposed route, there exists a constitutionally offensive ‘possible temptation’ for the agency to be partisan in favor of the pipeline company’s proposal, thereby denying potentially aggrieved parties due process of law."

"Of course, the instant result is hardly a surprise," the groups continued. "Since 2010, FERC has approved thirty-one (31) natural gas pipeline projects, authorizing the construction and operation of a total of nearly 1,900 miles of natural gas pipeline. In every case except one, the commission approved the pipeline route the relevant pipeline company proposed, despite the existence and the agency’s alleged ‘consideration’ of several viable — potentially preferable — alternatives." (CP11-56)*

*SNL Financial (Jun 22, 2012) – Sierra Club attacks NJ-NY approval, FERC foundations