By: Robert Walton

Dive Brief:

  • Federal energy regulators on Friday overruled a New York decision last month to deny a water quality certification to the 8-mile Valley Lateral pipeline proposed by Millennium Pipeline.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday issued an order ruling the New York Department of Environmental Conservation waited too long to make a decision and had “waived” its authority on the matter.
  • The short lateral would connect from Millennium Pipeline to a 680 MW natural gas plant being developed by Competitive Energy Ventures. Two other pipeline companies will reportedly seek similar waivers from FERC.

The implications of FERC’s ruling could stretch beyond the Millennium proceeding and may signal a commission getting more involved in infrastructure development, even if it means overruling state regulators.

New York received Millennium’s application in late 2015 but only denied it last month. According to FERC, by not acting within a year the commission ceded its authority.

“We find that the New York DEC, by failing to act within the one-year timeframe required by the [Clean Water Act], waived its authority to issue or deny a water quality certification,” the commission wrote.

Williams and National Fuel, two other pipeline companies, have indicated they would seek similar waivers for their Constitution and Northern Access pipelines, Reuters reports.

Natural gas companies say that in recent years citizen opposition to pipelines and plants has made it nearly impossible to site new infrastructure in New England, potentially threatening fuel supplies to generators during extreme weather events.

Those companies praised the decision, while environmentalists worried it could signal that new FERC appointees could overrule other state decisions on pipeline infrastructure. Green groups question the need for new pipelines and argue federal regulators do not properly account for ecological risks tied to pipeline development.

“States unquestionably have the authority to rule whether a dirty, dangerous fracked gas pipeline violates clean water laws, and nowhere is FERC granted the right to override that authority,” Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Director Roger Downs said in a statement. “Donald Trump and his nominees have once again proven to be nothing more than industry shills protecting corporate polluter profits over the rights of Americans to access clean water.”

New York’s decision to deny the water quality certificate followed an August ruling from D.C. Circuit Court, which found that federal regulators should have considered the impacts of climate change when considering a project last year.

Environmentalists have long pushed FERC to factor in climate risks, but the newly-constituted commission does not appear likely to let those considerations prevent pipeline development.

Acting Chairman Neil Chatterjee and Commissioner Robert Powelson, both confirmed in August, pledged to support infrastructure development in their Senate confirmation hearings. And nominee Kevin McIntyre, expected to become chairman if confirmed, wrote in testimony last week that FERC “does not have a climate change mission” and that the commission’s decisions already take into account potential risks.

“It is my understanding that current commission requirements already require consideration of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the construction and operation of proposed natural gas facilities, as well as impacts potentially resulting from climate change,” McIntyre wrote.



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