The EPA says they’re not going to rubber-stamp this pipeline

The EPA submitted comments recently about the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by this pipeline. It says in part:

On December 18, 2014 CEQ released revised draft guidance describing how Federal agencies should consider the effects ofgreenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change in NEPA reviews. In light ofthat guidance, agencies should consider both the potential effects ofa proposed action on climate change as indicated by its GHG emission; and the implications of climate change for the environmental effects of a proposed action. The Draft EIS should analyze GHG emissions associated with the construction and operation ofthe project, and from the production, transport and combustion ofthe natural gas. Provided is a link to the revised draft guidance:

http: //www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/ghg-guidance

According to the PennEast Pipeline website, portions of the project may be co-located in the same easement as existing utilities. Co-location may reduce losses ofnatural resources and is encouraged. The Draft EISshould describe the sections and acreages ofthe project that will be co-located, how the pipeline project will be integrated, and how construction and operation ofthe project will affect existing utilities.

Land requirements and environmental information for proposed pipeyards, wareyards and any secondary features of the project should be included in the Draft EIS to ensure the public has a complete picture of the environmental impacts of the project. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor, but collectively significant, actions taking place over a period of time. EPA recommends a thorough consideration of secondary and cumulative impact in the EIS. Additional suggestions and more detailed comments related to scoping ofthe study are enclosed with this letter.

The letter is in bureacratese, but it saying in no uncertain terms that The EPA knows what’s going on and they’re not going to let these pipelines get rubber-stamped by the FERC without a fight. The reference to the revised guidance to NEPA on green houses gases is pointed and a reminder to FERC that they are not above the law of the land.

It’s even more pointed where the EPA mentions cumulative impacts. I believe when they mention this – “Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor, but collectively significant, actions taking place over a period of time. EPA recommends athorough consideration ofsecondary and cumulative impact in the EI” – they aren’t just talking about PennEast. It’s a shot across FERCs bow that their plan of criss crossing the country with a network of pipelines and sneaking it past the EPA and other conservation organizations by studying them individually in isolation has failed.

The EPA continues in the technical section:

The NEPA document should include a clear and robust justification ofthe underlying purpose and need for the proposed project. In order for the project to move forward, FERC would need to issue a certificate of “public convenience and necessity”. We recommend discussing the proposal in the context of the broader energy market, describing the factors involved in determining whether there is or is not a truly “public” convenience and necessity for this facility.

If you decode that, it’s basically saying: “PennEast’s justification is a load of crap, and we both know it”. And there’s more!

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides for the listing of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals as well as the designation ofcritical habitat for listed species. The ESA prohibits the taking of any listed species without (for federal agencies) an “Incidental Take Statement.” The EIS should provide a description of terrestrial, wildlife and aquatic species in the study area. Any threatened or endangered species must be listed. Critical habitat for threatened or endangered species should be property identified. The EIS should describe the potential project impacts to these species. The most recent state and federal threatened and endangered species coordination letters should be included in the EIS. In addition, we recommend that the appropriate state and federal agencies be contacted annually at a minimum regarding these issues.

The EPA is telling the FERC that they better listen to environmental agencies and include their data in the EIS. Having the FERC send a surveyor out for a couple of days isn’t going to cut it.

We move on to farm lands:

Farmland
In New Jersey, the proposed route for the PennEast pipeline appears to cross many farms preserved under the State of New Jersey Department of Agriculture Department preservation program. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement should discuss this program, how the pipeline construction and operation will impact the preserved farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and any necessary mitigation.

They have to detail in their EIS how they’re threatening preserved farms. They have to say how they’re mitigating impact. Which I’m not sure how they can – how do you mitigate loss of usable farm land? It’s not like we can manufacture some more to compensate.

The EPA also knows that pipeline accidents can and do happen. And PennEast has to include that in their EIS as well.

Hazardous sites/Spill concern

The pipeline has the potential to cross several areas that may have RCRA corrective action sites CERCLIS sites or on-going leaking underground storage tank cleanups. The Draft EIS should describe any potential hazardous waste cleanup sites in the vicinity ofthe project and how the project would affect active remediation sites.

A pipeline failure during the construction or operation can cause potential toxic environmental damage to water quality, various habitats, communities, flora, and fauna. EPA recommends that the draft EIS address the potential for such a failure, appropriate state- identified and FERC-identified Best Management Practices (BMP’s) for spill prevention. The Draft EIS should describe the capabilities of emergency operators along with necessary emergency plan and mitigation of spills in emergencies for all sections of the pipeline and all construction and use phases ofthe pipeline’s life.

Note that the EPA explicitly mentions the “capabilities of emergency operators along with necessary emergency plan and mitigation of spills in emergencies for all sections”. From my point of view, how are volunteer fire departments along the route that are already stretched thin for resources going to deal with a pipeline accident?

Traffic impacts are also mentioned – I’m glad to see that, not many people have talked about how construction is going to impact roads. Especially in rural communities when there aren’t a lot of options to get from Point A and Point B.

Tragic and Transportation: The EIS should address traffic and transportation as it
relates to the Proposed Action, especially during construction. It may be necessary to provide an evaluation of existing roads specifying existing levels of service at major intersections near the project area as well as accident data.

And then the EPA pulls out it’s heavy guns – and points them at FERC’s head:

Secondarv and Cumulative Impacts

The Council on Environmental Quality in 40 CFR 1508.7 implementing NEPA defines cumulative impacts as “impacts on the environment which result from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (federal or non-federal) or person undertakes such other actions.” The cumulative impacts analysis should consider the environmental impacts of the project as a whole and as one of a number of the other proposed and/or approved actions in the area that would have the potential to impact the same resources, including natural and community resources such as wetlands, air quality and EJ communities. This should include information on proposed and reasonably foreseeable projects in the study area ofLuzerne, Carbon, Northampton and Bucks Counties in Pennsylvania, and Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in New Jersey, documenting location, distance from the proposed project and description ofpotential cumulative impacts. These should include, but not be limited to: FERC jurisdictional projects, intrastate pipelines and compression, gathering pipelines, gas processing facilities, gas wells, and projects such as industrial or commercial facilities and other developments regardless ofwhether these actions are energy related or not, or whether or not FERC has jurisdiction over them.

We recommend focusing on resources or communities of concern, or resources “at risk”
which could be cumulatively impacted by all of the above actions. Please refer to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance on “Considering Cumulative Effects Under the National Environmental Policy Act”, and EPA’s “Consideration ofCumulative Impacts in EPA Review of NEPA Documents” for further assistance in identifying appropriate spatial and temporal
boundaries for this analysis.

The EPA comes out and shoves the reality right back at the FERC: the EPA knows there are many pipelines and other energy projects being planned. Everybody knows it. So the EPA is demanding those projects be considered as part of the EIS and show their cumulative impact.

I have no idea if this will make a difference but if FERC does not follow the EPA’s recommendations it is, at the very least, an excellent basis for a law suit.

The FERC thinks that since they have sole approval authority they can ignore every other law in their quest for approving energy projects as fast as possible. This is in fact wrong. Laws often conflict with each other, and when that happens it’s the courts that decide.

Let’s hope if the FERC does continue to ignore other agencies that either our law makers fix the situation by taking sole approval authority away from the FERC. Or that towns and organizations impacted by their decisions successfully take them to court and prove their numerous violations of federal laws and Presidential directives.

The EPA’s complete submission is available below:

US EPA’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

US EPA’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

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Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and two cats Ponce de Leon and Xavier.

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