October 2019, Vol. 246, No. 10


New York to Fight FERC Ruling on Constitution Pipeline

P&GJ Staff Report

The New York regulatory agency that failed to act on a water quality certification for Williams’ planned Constitution Pipeline said it will fight a federal ruling that it waived the decision through inaction. In spite of the challenge, the project may move ahead to completion by 2021. 

The FERC decision moved the project forward, although it still requires U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval before construction can begin.

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) ‎disagrees with FERC’s decision that, once again, sides with the fossil fuel industry over protecting our environment. DEC will continue to vigorously defend our decision and our authority to protect New York State’s water quality resources,” the agency said in a prepared statement after the FERC decision.

The 125-mile, 30-inch Constitution Pipeline would have the capacity to transport about 650 MMcfd natural gas per day from the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale to consumers in New York.  It has been through a lengthy process of regulatory and legal review:

  • FERC issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project on Oct. 24, 2014, concluding that environmental impacts would be reduced to “less than significant levels” with the implementation of proposed mitigation measures by the company and FERC.
  • On Dec. 2, 2014, FERC granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the Constitution project, signifying its approval to build and operate the pipeline. The certificate details the conditions of the approval, including the final route FERC has authorized, and construction and mitigation measures that must be followed.
  • On April 22, 2016, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) denied Constitution Pipeline’s Section 401 Water Quality Certification.
  • On Nov. 5 of last year, FERC granted a request to extend the planned in-service date for Constitution Pipeline to December 2020.

In August 2019, FERC issued an order finding that NYSDEC waived the water quality certification required under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act for the New York portion of Constitution’s interstate natural gas pipeline project.

A report from Height Capital Markets analysts projected that “barring any permit reversals or unfavorable court decisions, we believe the project could enter service in 2021.”

Tulsa-based Williams has not provided updated guidance regarding its expected in-service date for Constitution since it asked FERC for the extension to December 2020.  Company spokesperson Christopher Stockton, however, reiterated Williams’ belief in the value of the project.

“The Constitution project continues to represent much-needed energy infrastructure designed to bring natural gas to a region of the country confronting natural gas supply constraints that have resulted in some of the highest consumer energy prices in the country,” Stockton said. “The project sponsors are evaluating the next steps for advancing the project.”

The issue of states using Clean Water Act (CWA) certifications to block pipeline projects has been a growing concern that has drawn the attention of the Trump administration.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s has proposed clear limits on states’ ability to use CWA certifications as barriers to pipeline construction.  The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) has also weighed in on the issue.

“While the statute recognizes the distinctive roles of the federal and state governments in the environmental review process,” INGAA President and CEO Don Santa said recently, “the balance between those roles has recently been disrupted and some states have viewed Section 401 as a means of determining which interstate pipeline projects are in the public interest and which are not.”  P&GJ

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