Feds clear way for Constitution Pipeline in New York over state’s objection
ALBANY – Federal regulators allowed the Constitution Pipeline to move forward Wednesday, ruling New York took too long to deny a key permit that had been blocking construction of the proposed natural-gas line.
The decision handed down by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found the state Department of Environmental Conservation waived its right to reject the necessary water-quality permit for the pipeline because the state agency failed to act in a timely manner.
The ruling comes three years after DEC denied the pipeline builder’s permit application for failing “to meet New York state’s water quality standards.”
It clears the way for Williams Partners LP, the gas company heading the project, to move ahead with the Pennsylvania-to-New York line, though the state is likely to challenge the decision.
The 124-mile, 30-inch-wide pipeline would carry from Pennsylvania across New York’s Southern Tier, cutting through eastern Broome County and Delaware County en route to Schoharie County, west of Albany.
“The project sponsors are evaluating the next steps for advancing the project,” Williams said in a statement Tuesday.
The pipeline has generated controversy in New York, a state that has banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. It is set to carry gas from the fields of Pennsylvania, where fracking is allowed, into the Empire State.
The DEC rejected Williams’ water-quality permit application in 2016, saying the project raised concerns for an estimated 250 streams in the state. Williams did not provide a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impact of the pipeline’s burial, according to the DEC.
But that ruling came well outside a one-year window as required under federal law, the FERC ruling said, and as a result, the state waived its right to issue a permit.
The agency also denied the state’s request for temporary stay on the project, essentially opening the door for construction to begin on the pipeline absent further challenge from the state.
Williams appealed to FERC after striking out in the federal courts, which sided with the state.
The pipeline would bring enough natural gas into the state to supply 3 million homes at a time when New York’s energy future is up for debate in the wake of the state’s new climate change law, which sets strict carbon-reduction goals.
DEC did not immediately return a request for comment.
A closer look
Williams originally submitted a request for the water permit in August 2013, but later withdrew and resubmitted the proposal on May 9, 2014.
Under section 401 of the Federal Clean Water Act, states have one year to approve or deny a water permit or forfeit their right to issue one at all.
FERC on Tuesday ruled DEC failed to properly act on the May 9 request within the required window even though the project was withdrawn and resubmitted again on April 25, 2015 — something DEC said it believed would reset the one-year clock.
“According to New York DEC, each withdrawal and resubmission represented Constitution’s good faith pursuit of a water quality certification and after each withdrawal and resubmission the agency’s evaluation continued apace,” FERC said in its ruling.
But Williams’ withdrawal was voluntary, the commission said, and no formal agreement was ever in place between the company and state regulators that would allow for an extension.
“We conclude that New York DEC failed or refused to act on Constitution’s request for a water quality certification within the one-year period running from Constitution’s first resubmission on May 9, 2014, to a deadline of May 9, 2015,” the ruling said.
Whether DEC plans to challenge the ruling was not immediately clear. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.
Wednesday’s decision comes at a time of uncertainty for New York’s natural gas future.
Several moratoriums on new natural gas hook-ups are in place throughout the state, including Westchester County, Long Island and parts of New York City.
The moratoriums are the result of a natural gas shortage brought on by a demand for new hook ups and a lack of new natural gas pipelines in the state, energy companies like Con Edison and National Grid have said.
New York regulators denied a necessary permit for a the Williams Pipeline earlier this year that would have brought fracked natural gas into New York City from Pennsylvania.
“These interstate pipeline constraints do not affect our existing customers, but limit our ability to serve new customers on the coldest days, when demand for natural gas is at its peak,” Con Edison, whose moratorium on natural gas hook ups impacts most of Westchester, said in a statement back in March.
Further complicating matters is the state’s new climate change law.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, earlier this year, signed legislation that would set a statewide goal of net-zero emissions in the state by 2050.
The bill has sparked a debate between environmental activists and business groups over the future of energy in the state.
“We have to transition off of all fossil fuels if we’re going to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change,” said Liz Moran, environmental policy director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
But the state’s Business Council argues New York’s new law doesn’t require an end of natural gas usage in the state but rather a limit on fossil-fuel emissions, which can be curtailed by new technologies that still allow the use of natural gas.
The debate is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon — a 22-person committee will be appointed to determine how the state will meet its energy goals.
This content was originally published here.