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FERC rejects re-hearing on pipeline

WASHINGTON, DC — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on July 19 issued a decision denying a rehearing on Millennium Pipeline Company’s Eastern System Upgrade (ESU) Project. The project includes the compressor station near Eldred and other changes to the pipeline to allow more gas to go through the system. Some of the natural gas going through the system will ultimately end up at the Competitive Power Ventures Energy Valley Power Plant (CPV) in Orange County through Millennium’s Lateral Valley Pipeline (LVP).

Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Protect Orange County had requested the rehearing on a wide range of issues. One charge was that FERC and failed to consider the impact of the three projects as a whole, and therefore engaged in “segmentation,” which is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. The FERC decision said that for various reasons, the three projects are separate and distinct projects and the impacts from them do not need to be considered together.

Another issue put forward by Riverkeeper related to a federal appeals court decision in August 2017, regarding a pipeline project through Alabama and Georgia to power plants in Florida, called the Sabal Trail pipeline. The court essentially ruled that because the pipeline company had not considered the impact of the “downstream” emissions on the environment, the project could not move ahead as scheduled.

Riverkeeper said the ESU project similarly disregarded the impacts on the environment of additional greenhouse gases that will be running through the Millennium Pipeline and up to the CPV power plant.

The FERC decision said, “Riverkeeper’s argument that the commission failed to consider or quantify the GHG emissions associated with delivery specifically to the [CPV] Valley Energy Center and other natural gas power plants is misplaced. As discussed, although one of the Project’s interconnections will provide an alternative means of access to gas supply for the Valley Energy Center in the event that Millennium’s mainline is taken out of service, the Project is not designed, and does not add incremental capacity, to serve the Valley Energy Center. As for Riverkeeper’s other concern, regarding additional natural gas power plant facilities, there is no evidence that the Project is designed to serve natural gas power plant facilities, unlike the projects at issue in Sabal Trail.”

But that the Eldred compressor will push natural gas to the plant is apparent, and the sole purpose of building the LVP is to serve natural gas to the plant. Millennium says on its website, “In March 2015, Millennium executed a binding precedent agreement with CPV for the entire capacity of the Project.”

One of the commissioners, Richard Glick, wrote an opinion that dissented in part from the majority, which was published with the decision. It said, “The Commission concludes, among other things, that it is not required to consider the harm from the Project’s contribution to climate change.  This position fails to meet our obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Natural Gas Act (NGA). I believe the Commission is required to fully disclose and consider the Project’s contribution to climate change, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from producing and consuming the natural gas that the Project is designed to transport.

“The Commission cannot point to the mere presence of uncertainty over upstream and downstream GHG emissions to excuse it from considering the harm from the Project’s contribution to climate change. In the case of new natural gas pipelines, it is reasonable to assume that building incremental transportation capacity will spur additional production and result in some level of combustion of natural gas, even if the exact details of the method or location are not definite.”

Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur is expected to issue a partially dissenting opinion at a later date. Commissioner Robert Powelson is due to step down next month, which leaves some analysts predicting two-to-two ties for some decisions between Glick and LaFleur on one side and chair Kevin J. McIntyre and commissioner Neil Chatterjee on the other.

 

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