Aug. 15–The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has declined to revisit its decision to approve the PennEast pipeline, prompting a new lawsuit from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
The network filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, following Friday’s 3-2 vote by FERC to deny multiple rehearing requests from environmental groups for the 120-mile PennEast pipeline.
The 36-inch-diameter pipeline will cut through 200 properties in Northampton County on its way from Luzerne County to Mercer County in New Jersey.
The Riverkeeper lawsuit says that when FERC approved the project in January, the commission violated the Natural Gas Act by failing to prove the need for the pipeline or its benefits. The commission also failed to consider the project’s long-term impacts on the environment, the suit alleges.
Both Penn East and FERC declined comment on the lawsuit.
Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the group was unable to sue FERC while the group’s request for the commission to revisit its approval of the project was pending.
Since the PennEast pipeline was granted conditional approval in January, dozens of individuals and organizations like the Delaware Riverkeeper Network have filed “requests for rehearing,” asking the commission to reconsider its decision.
Instead of approving or denying the requests, FERC issued tolling orders, which can delay a decision indefinitely.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a request for rehearing on Jan. 24, and FERC issued a tolling order on Feb. 22.
Under the federal Natural Gas Act, FERC has 30 days to respond to any rehearing request with an approval, denial or a tolling order delaying its decision indefinitely.
While FERC delays issuing a “yes” or “no” on the requests, the project continued to move forward, opponents contend.
Aaron Stemplewicz, senior attorney for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the pipeline can still proceed, even with the group’s pending lawsuit. But PennEast still has several permits to receive before any construction can begin, he said.
Those include permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware River Basin Commission, he said.
PennEast spokeswoman Patricia Kornick said pipeline officials anticipate starting construction in 2019 and that it will take seven months. In the meantime, PennEast is continuing to study properties in the pipeline’s path, she said.
FERC’s vote on Friday coincided with the last day of work for Republican Commissioner Robert Powelson.
Powelson was appointed by President Trump in 2017 and announced his plans to leave the commission in June to become president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies, according to the FERC website.
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said opponents believe Powelson’s departure could lead to a stalemate on the commission, which will have two Republican commissioners and two Democratic commissioners remaining.
Commission members Kevin McIntyre, Neil Chatterjee and Powelson voted in favor of denying PennEast’s rehearing requests Friday.
Commissioner Richard Glick voted against denying the request.
Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur wrote that she was in favor of hearing the request, and also believes that “certain aspects” of the commission’s environmental review of PennEast are “fundamentally flawed.”
In addition to denying rehearing requests for PennEast, the commission on Friday also declined rehearing requests for the Eastern Market Access Project, which would add additional compression along an existing pipeline in Virginia and Maryland; and the Southeast Markets Pipeline Project.
The Southeast project is comprised of three separate, but related natural gas transmission projects in the southeastern states.hey include the Hillabee Expansion Project in Alabama; the Sabal Trail Pipeline, from Central Alabama to Southwest Georgia; and the Florida Southeast Connection project in central Florida, according to the FERC website.
FERC also unanimously ordered a stop to construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, saying a recent court ruling could mean it will need to be rerouted. The 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline would cross West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
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