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December 18, 2013

Group: Pipeline firm is ignoring questions

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Planners of the proposed $683 million Constitution Pipeline are avoiding public scrutiny by ducking numerous questions posed by regulators evaluating the project’s environmental impact, a legal clinic representing the project’s foes charged Tuesday.

The Pace University Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic, representing Stop the Pipeline, filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, listing what it says are numerous instances where the pipeline company has sidestepped concerns raised by state agencies and by FERC itself.

“We were shocked by the evasive techniques the company used to avoid answering questions,” said Anne Marie Garti of Meredith, one of the founders of Stop the Pipeline and a volunteer at the Pace clinic.

She charged that the planners of the natural gas transmission system simply ignored many questions from regulators and “developed legal theories to try to avoid answering others.”

The activist legal group is representing the pipeline opponents as they mount pressure on the federal agency to reject the project’s application for a certificate of public necessity — a determination needed for the 124-mile pipeline to be built.

Tom Droege, a spokesman for the Constitution Pipeline, said in responding to the criticism that the company “has been and continues to be extremely transparent and cooperative in providing information and analysis to numerous regulatory agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New York Department of Conservation.”

The pipeline, he added, “would add new supplies of low-cost, clean burning energy to consumers in the Northeast.”

Parcels owned by more than 1,000 landowners in Schoharie, Delaware, Chenango and Broome counties would be potentially impacted, as would land in Susquehanna County, Pa., where the pipeline would begin.

If the federal agency deems the project is in the public interest, the pipeline company would gain eminent domain authority to acquire easements to parcels whose owners have objected to having the natural gas infrastructure on their land.

The pipeline would also require permits from the the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

With the proposed route crossing numerous streams and forests, the project has the potential to “create enormous adverse environmental impacts,” said Daniel Estrin, the supervising attorney for the Pace clinic.

He said the queries framed by the regulators are “absolutely necessary” in weighing the environmental impacts of the pipeline construction.

The Pace clinic was founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist and the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

The pipeline planners have said they plan to complete the project in March 2015. But Stop the Pipeline has contended that target date will be impossible to achieve because of resistance from landowners and the environmental concerns that must be addressed.