While the rest of the world celebrates Star Wars Day in epic May the Fourth style, here in the Northeast we’ve got our own saga playing out: New York’s continued denial of pipelines necessary to meet natural gas demands in the Empire State and New England.
Here’s a quick update on what’s occurred recently:
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline in 2014, and again in 2016, conditional upon state permit approvals in Pennsylvania and New York. Pennsylvania issued permit approval for its leg of the Constitution in 2015, but the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied a required water quality permit for the project in 2016 – three years after the permit request was submitted – essentially blocking the pipeline. DEC’s denial of the permit was heavily criticized by labor unions that said the project would have ensured “thousands of highly-skilled and trained construction workers would have job opportunities with family-supporting wages and benefits.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the company’s appeal of a 2017 decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, upholding the state’s denial of the permit required to complete the pipeline. This isn’t necessarily the end of the road for the project, though.
It took DEC three years to issue a decision on Constitution’s request for a permit, which is very similar to another pipeline – the Valley Lateral – that the agency also denied. Last year, Valley Lateral owner Millenium Pipeline Company appealed the DEC decision to FERC. FERC determined that since DEC had taken longer than one year to reach a decision, it waived its right to deny the permit. A federal appeals court upheld that decision last year, allowing the project to move forward.
If Constitution owner Williams can show FERC that DEC similarly waived its authority over Constitution by taking an unreasonable amount of time to issue a decision, then the project should likewise be able to move forward after several years of delay.
Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE)
Williams received another water quality permit denial from DEC at the end of April for a separate project, the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) that would expand the existing Transco pipeline system and add natural gas feedstock for New York City, Long Island and into New England. The added natural gas capacity has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 2.4 million tons per year.
The project is awaiting its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from FERC, although FERC’s draft EIS was issued in March 2018. DEC explained in the April denial that the permit application was incomplete and because of the looming one-year deadline coming up in June 2018, it denied the permit so as not to waive its authority to do so in the future. Williams will have the opportunity to resubmit the application and thus restart the clock on DEC’s required timeframe to reach a decision.
This shows that Williams may have a real shot at getting the Constitution built, though, if DEC is taking new measures to ensure it doesn’t waive its authority over these water quality permits.
Only time will tell what will occur with these projects, but in the meantime, New York’s continued blockade of pipeline infrastructure is having very real and unnecessary impacts in New England, where all pipelines to the region carrying nearby Marcellus natural gas must first pass through New York.