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April 24, 2014

EPA deems pipeline study 'insufficient'

By Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
The Daily Star

---- — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that a draft report on the environmental impacts of the proposed Constitution Pipeline is “insufficient,” and that a potential option of co-locating the transmission line along Interstate 88 “has not been fully evaluated.”

The comments by Judy-Ann Mitchell, chief of the EPA’s Sustainability and Multimedia Programs Branch, were sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in recent days in response to the latter agency’s determination that the controversial $700 million project posed “acceptable” environmental impacts along the 124-mile pathway.

EPA is calling on FERC, the pipeline planners, the state Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and other agencies meet to discuss the I-88 alternative “fully,” according to Mitchell’s letter to FERC.

The new comments being added to FERC’s Constitution file show that the FERC staffers who issued the draft environmental impact statement are giving a much wider berth to the pipeline’s preferred route than EPA and other federal and state agencies involved in the review process.

For instance, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) complained that the FERC impact statement “prematurely eliminates further consideration of all or portions of Alternative M (the Interstate 88 corridor) which would significantly reduce environmental impacts and serve to promote the FERC’s policy to use, widen or extend existing rights of way when locating proposed facilities.”

DEC, which has limited jurisdiction over the projected, suggested that the I-88 alternative offers “substantially fewer impacts to three critically important fish and wildlife habitats, interior forests, wetlands and streams.”

The analysis of the I-88 option has been hindered, DEC said, because “the applicant has unfortunately not submitted detailed information nor has it presented detailed proposals or plans” to the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

In an even stronger comment, DEC noted that co-locating a pipeline along an existing highway right of way is not only consistent with FERC policy, but also “required” by regulations governing FERC.

FERC’s determination that the installation of the underground pipeline through forests, fields, farmland and ridge tops was also questioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the state Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

“It’s very consistent across the board that the agencies are saying it’s not done,” said Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer from East Meredith who is one of the prime organizers of the grassroots group Stop the Pipeline.

Whether the FERC staff will significantly amend the impact statement may not be known for weeks. It will be up to the agency’s presidentially-appointed commissioners to issue a final environmental impact statement.

Garti said her group will be watching to see if FERC “obeys the law or breaks the law.” She also insisted the project is “in trouble” as a result of the concerns expressed by the other regulatory agencies regarding the environmental impact statement.

Christopher Stockton, the spokesman for the Constitution Pipeline and an executive with Williams Partners, the energy firm that is the lead investor in the project, said the pipeline company is in “regular contact” with the regulatory agencies that have lodged their concerns with FERC.

Stockton said the pipeline planners remain “cautiously optimistic” that the project will advance.

“If FERC asks us to respond to certain issues, we certainly will,” he said.

The pipeline, if approved, will receive gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale wells in northeastern Pennsylvania. From there, the pipeline would stretch to the Schoharie County town of Wright, where an existing compressor station would be expanded to facilitate the transmission of gas for the new pipeline.

Stockton noted that the Marcellus Shale is the largest natural gas reserve in the world, and last year produced 13 billion cubic feet of gas a day, up from 2 billion cubic feet per day in 2010. An expansion of infrastructure is needed to bring that gas to the markets that want it, he said.

Garti accused Constitution Pipeline of misrepresenting what she said is the real goal of the project — to transmit the gas to Canada. Stockton said the plan continues to call for the gas to go to markets in the northeastern United States.

The pipeline has been endorsed by the Delaware County Board of Supervisors as well as by Amphenol Aerospace in Sidney and Laborers International Union of North America.

Leatherstocking Gas Co., a partnership of Corning Gas and Mirabito Holdings, wants to supply gas to the Amphenol plant through a tap that would be placed on the pipeline. The company also hopes to provide natural gas to homes and businesses in the village of Sidney.

The EPA, in its filing, called on FERC to study the “reasonably foreseeable impacts” of the Leatherstocking network, calling that an “indirect effect of the Constitution Pipeline.”

The FERC document states “because specifics of this (Leatherstocking) infrastructure are unknown, impacts are discussed in a general sense where applicable below.”

However, the EPA stated: “The impacts are never mentioned again” in the FERC report.