Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

New York State denies permit to Constitution Pipeline, halting construction

.Megan Holleran stands by a sign on her family's land. The Hollerans lost their court battle to save their maple trees from eminent domain seizure. The trees are being cut to make way for the new Constitution Pipeline.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Megan Holleran stands by a sign on her family's land. The Hollerans lost their court battle to save their maple trees from eminent domain seizure. The trees were cut to make way for the new Constitution Pipeline, which has been blocked by New York.

New York State on Friday denied a crucial water-quality permit to builders of a controversial natural gas pipeline, halting its construction through about 100 miles of that state and another 25 miles of Pennsylvania.

The decision was hailed as a big victory by environmental campaigners, who have argued that the Constitution Pipeline would destroy swathes of open land in order to pump fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale to markets in New York and New England.

“This is a critical turning point for pipeline battles across the nation,” said Maya van Rossum, who heads the Pennsylvania-based environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which opposes the development of thousands of miles of pipeline in Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

She argued that the decision shows that states have a right to stand up to the pipeline industry, and to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the project, and is seen by critics as a rubber stamp for the gas industry. A spokeswoman for FERC could not be reached for comment.

“This is a tremendous inspiration for the public, for other states and an important emphasis for the power and importance of the law,” Van Rossum said.

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for the Williams Companies, which leads the pipeline project, said the company is examining the reasons for the decision and is considering its options, which may include a court appeal.

“We are very disappointed by today’s decision,” Stockton said in statement. “We remain absolutely committed to building this important energy infrastructure project.”

The American Petroleum Institute said the decision was bad for the economy and for gas consumers, who would have paid less for their gas if the pipeline had gone ahead.

Marty Durbin, the API’s Executive Director for Market Development, called the decision by the administration of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, “another example of politics at its worst.”

“This decision impacts not only the residents of New York but also the families and businesses in the surrounding states whose consumers currently pay the highest energy costs in the country,” Durbin said in a statement.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation said the Constitution Pipeline failed to meet the state’s water-quality standards because it would cross ecologically sensitive areas, old-growth forests and some 250 streams.

The DEC said Williams had refused a request for a detailed analysis of its plans to bury the pipeline at a sufficient depth beneath the 250 streams.

Although the DEC’s decision has halted the pipeline for now, it cannot reverse the clearance of trees on some Pennsylvania parcels, which had already begun even though the company had not obtained all the necessary permits from New York State.

The affected properties include 23 acres in New Milford Township, Susquehanna County, which has been owned since the 1950s by the family of Catherine Holleran.

In early March, crews cut about three acres of trees on the property after Williams won a fight to take the land by eminent domain.

Holleran, 59, called the New York decision a “bitter-sweet” victory that may stop the pipeline but could not bring back the trees that her family used to harvest sap for maple syrup.

“We tried to tell Williams and Cabot that this might happen before they cut our trees, and why couldn’t they please wait but they insisted on doing it anyway, ours and many other peoples,” she said. “And now it’s for nothing, it looks like they are not going to get their go-ahead at all.”

In December 2014, New York State banned fracking for natural gas.

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