Pennsylvania

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FERC urged to take another look at PennEast pipeline plan after route changes

Jacqueline Evans, whose farm near Stockton, N.J., lies in the path of the proposed PennEast pipeline, speaks out against the project.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Jacqueline Evans, whose farm near Stockton, N.J., lies in the path of the proposed PennEast pipeline, speaks out against the project.

Environmental groups called on Monday for a fresh federal review of a plan to build the controversial PennEast natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey after newly published route changes cast further doubt on what critics say was already a flawed Draft Environmental Impact Statement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

PennEast Pipeline Co.’s statement Friday that it plans 33 deviations from its original route highlights the need for another assessment of whether the pipeline would damage the environment along its 119-mile route from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, the environmentalists said.

Maya van Rossum, who heads Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), said the route changes raise more questions about the credibility of the DEIS which she called “deficient and misleading” when it was issued in July.

“These 33 new modifications further demonstrate that the draft EIS released does not even describe, let alone analyze, the pipeline PennEast wants to build,” van Rossum said in a statement. “FERC needs to go back to the drawing board and issue a new DEIS and hold a new public process, one that includes real public hearings.”

In March, DRN sued FERC in federal court, accusing it of corruption and bias in favor of the gas industry. It said the agency has approved every pipeline application that has come before it since 1986, and that it will not deny projects because it recovers its operating costs through the fees its charges to the industries it regulates.

Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for the company, said the route changes – 26 of which would be in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne, Carbon and Northampton Counties – are part of an effort to reduce impacts to endangered species and wetlands and to build the pipeline on existing rights of way.

“PennEast views the modifications as being responsive not only to constructive feedback provided by landowners, agencies, and other stakeholders, but also to recommendations contained within FERC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” Kornick said.

In Luzerne County, the route changes would include co-locating the pipeline with a Williams-Transco line, and moving a meter station to the same site as another operated by UGI Utilities. Elsewhere in Luzerne County, PennEast now wants to reroute the line to avoid a quarry and co-locate it within an easement held by Pennsylvania Power and Light.

In Carbon County, the company is working with the Blue Mountain Ski Resort to build the pipeline on a different ski slope to the one it was originally planned for, to avoid a hang-gliding area and existing underground infrastructure.

The changes do not “materially” affect the route, and do not impact new landowners, so they will not need an additional review by FERC, Kornick said.

Celeste Miller, a spokeswoman for FERC, which regulates interstate pipelines, said the agency is “evaluating the extent of the variations to the route”, and that it is too soon to know whether that will impact the process. Miller declined to comment on claims that the changes further undermine the  DEIS.

The statement, at more than 1,100 pages, said there could be some adverse environmental impacts from the project but that they could be mitigated if the company adopts measures proposed by itself and by FERC.

FERC’s public-comment period, which ended on Sept. 5, included a series of hearings at which individual members of the public could deliver their remarks on the pipeline to a FERC official, one-on-one, at several locations in the counties where the pipeline would be built. The EIS is expected to be finalized in December.

Critics who attended the events in August said they were not true public hearings but in fact an effort to stifle debate on the controversial line by a federal agency that is often accused of being a rubber stamp for gas-industry projects.

Accusations that public views are not being taken into account have resurfaced with the publication of the route changes after the public-comment period has ended.

“The idea of publishing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement is to allow the public the opportunity to review it, comment on it, and submit any relevant information that they think could help to address their concerns,” said Mike Helbing, a staff attorney with the environmental group PennFuture. “As it stands now, the public is being deprived of the opportunity to do that because all of these changes are being made after the public comment period closed.”

Helbing said FERC should now publish a supplemental EIS that would include its review of the proposed route changes and take into account concerns expressed by critics that he said were omitted from the original document.

Since the DEIS was published in July 22, FERC has come under additional pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which said in mid-September that it had “significant concerns” about FERC’s analysis of alternatives to the project, which it is required to conduct under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in order to show that PennEast’s preferred option is the most suitable.

“Without additional analysis of alternatives, it is not clear that the preferred alternative is the only one that can meet the stated purpose and need,” the EPA said, in a letter to FERC.

On Sept. 12, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said it could not fully comment on the DEIS because of a shortage of specific technical information about PennEast’s plans. The agency said it had not received any applications for permits on land use or water quality for the project.

Comments

  • http://flippetyfloppety.blogspot.com Karen Orlando

    Supplemental EIS or not, those in opposition won’t be satisfied period. And it is a farce that those in opposition like Deleware Riverkeeper claim that FERC changing their meeting procedure for public input was “an effort to stifle debate”.

    “The idea of publishing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement is to allow the public the opportunity to review it, comment on it, and submit any relevant information that they think could help to address their concerns” is certainly an apt description of the intended purpose for gathering public input, but that is not what factually occurs in most cases.

    Regarding the claims of FERC “being a rubber stamp for gas-industry projects” one should ask exactly whose claims these are because those making the claim have names and also weigh whether or not “a statement, (the draft EIS) at more than 1,100 pages” which is information stated in this article actually sounds like a rubber stamp to a reasonable person.

  • Wayne

    Regarding the “rubber stamp” description critics use to describe FERC, the other day I quoted from a news article percentages of project applications denied by FERC in relation to applications filed with FERC. Those applications I referred to included multiple infrastructure besides pipelines, such as compressor station locations, LNG terminals etc. If Delaware Riverkeeper’s lawsuit description regarding pipelines, which is quoted above, is correct, then FERC is 100% a “rubber stamp”. Here’s the quote:
    “DRN sued FERC in federal court, accusing it of corruption and bias in favor of the gas industry. It said the agency has approved every pipeline application that has come before it since 1986, and that it will not deny projects because it recovers its operating costs through the fees its charges to the industries it regulates.”

    If a 100% pipeline approval record since 1986 is not an accurate basis for describing FERC as a “rubber stamp” agency, what is?

    • http://flippetyfloppety.blogspot.com Karen Orlando

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKjaogdw5fQ

      I think perhaps this video is all one needs to make the call on whether FERC is a rubber stamp agency or not Wayne. It features some interesting people. Some I have never seen tell the truth.

      The quote from Deleware Riverkeeper isn’t accurate and someone already attempted this line of reasoning and argument with Spectra NYNJ pipe, perhaps the Jersey City Mayor. I might not have the details completely straight on that but the FERC rubber stamp line and FERC doesn’t work and FERC is a rogue agency are simply talking points of the antifracking and pipeline movement. And the movement created a conspiracy theory on an LNG import project and says a lot of things that are not credible,

      • Wayne

        You are a broken record that repeatedly sings of lying activists, lying environmental groups, ignorant reporters, and now a naive, ignorant Jersey City mayor? Aren’t you fed up with portraying yourself as the only sane, informed, truthful person when it comes to gas and oil related infrastructure extraction, distribution and use?

        • http://flippetyfloppety.blogspot.com Karen Orlando

          Reporters rely on sources for information Wayne.

          And while your impression which of course doesnt impress me at all is that I portray myself as the only sane, truthful, informed person when it comes to a variety of things that is of course simply a misinterpretation of reality from you.

          Further you have put words in my mouth for example you have just said I somehow claimed the former Jersey city mayor was naive and ignorant. Of course that is what I said.

          By the way the reporter here did report on activist claims that the port ambrose project was secretly or likely intended for export. That is a fact. Notice I didn’t say that he is stupid. What I will say is his sources were lying. And guess what Wayne I know that because I interacted with some of those sources.

          I also participated in a ferc docket with fractivist organizations and have met antifracking activists (some but of course not all) in person. I also participated in the docket on port ambrose as well.

          Your misinterpretation of my words doesn’t impress me Wayne. It doesn’t demonstrate to me that you can comprehend what you read nor that you can understand information related to you. I can.

          The people on the video supplied have names. The lawsuit history with spectra nynj pipeline is findable. Ferc itself even has some information on suits on its own website.

          Go ahead and misinterpret the information conveyed in this comment Wayne. I’m sure you will.

        • http://flippetyfloppety.blogspot.com Karen Orlando

          And further more I am not actually a broken record. Your analogy is poor. I don’t skip and repeat myself stuck on saying the same small thing over and over and over. I may repeat some things but I don’t just keep saying the same phrases over and over and over. Actually that sounds much like an analogy for the talking points of anti natural gas pipeline and all infrackstructure movement which I am fluent in. I am fluent in them because I have learned them.

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