EPA Continues Criticism of FERC

Opponents of the PennEast pipeline cheered when EPA weighed in (among many other agencies) about the inadequacy of the FERC Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  It seems like finally other agencies are noticing how lax FERC is in following its own regulations.

Yesterday, the EPA continued this trend with a criticism of another pipeline project.  The EPA filed comments on a Final EIS for the Columbia Pipeline Leach  XPress and Rayne Xpress expansion projects.  The Mountaineer XPress project is a monster proposal with 160 miles of pipeline plus other assorted impacts.  All told it’ll move 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day..

It is clear from reading this filing, along with the past comments on PennEast, that the EPA is getting fed up with FERC.

The EPA commented on the Mountaineer Draft EIS several months ago, and found similar deficiencies to PennEast’s (they rated it “Environmental Concerns, Insufficient Information” just like on PE).  And while they thanked FERC for addressing a few things in the Final EIS for Leach XPress, they still found glaring holes you could drive a Mack truck through…

In particular, the EPA objected to the following:

  • They found FERC made assertions about alternatives to the project without including any rationale, data, or facts to back up those assertions.  In particular, EPA asks they evaluate another pipeline called the Mountaineer XPress as an alternative.  FERC said Mountaineer was “not a viable alternative” – and nothing else.  This may sound familiar to PennEast opponents.
  • EPA objected to information about above ground facilities including Compressor Stations to be incomplete and inadequate to access their impacts.
  • EPA pointed out that the DEIS did not indicate how much compression would be used at one of the stations.  FERC says they won’t know until the “final design” is in (which would be well after any approvals).  EPA was not happy with this and says they will hold FERC responsible for any emissions overages because of this lack of information.
  • FERC completely ignored indirect Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.  EPA and FERC are directly butting heads here.  The EPA says NEPA and the Counsel for Environmental Quality (CEQ) indicate that such impacts are easily foreseeable, and demand that they be included in an EIS.  FERC says “no”.  Expect a big battle here.
  • EPA objects loudly and strongly that FERC uses improper methodology for characterizing emissions and that FERC is ignoring CEQ guidance.
  • FERC is accused of ignoring an outsized adverse impact on low-income populations, and that further they are not properly engaging those stakeholders.  EPA repeatedly mentions that FERC is not engaging in “meaningful involvement” of the community.   This may sound a bit familiar as well.
  •  The pipeline company said they would respond to noise issues from the compressor station “within one year”.  The EPA points out how ludicrous that is and demands that responses be immediate or as soon as possible.
  • EPA feels that the XPress EIS does not document attempts to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources.  FERC just makes assertions here without any proof to back it up.
  • Related to the above, this EIS completely lacks a wetlands compensation mitigating plan.
  • The EIS has no Migratory Bird Conservation Plan.
  • EPA objects that FERC “recommends” certain procedures to the pipeline company which in fact should be mandatory.
  • EPA accuses FERC of allowing the pipeline company to submit plans that allege that they will not contribute to climate change or its impacts – without proof of those statements.
  • The EPA is concerned that the pipeline company is asking for a waiver to avoid fish spawning seasons for no good reason.
  • The EPA asserts that no meaningful analysis was given to surface water impacts during hydrostatic testing of the pipeline and related activities.

The message from the EPA to FERC is pretty clear here.  FERC routinely either lacks vital information to make an informed decision on their EIS’.  Or, worse, they often go against the clear meaning of NEPA and the guidelines of the CEQ.  And while the EPA can’t directly go after FERC for these things in this particular forum, they certainly can fire shots across FERC’s bow.  And that’s exactly what these are.  All of the “recommendations” from the EPA to FERC in this document is code for “FERC, you are vulnerable to law suits on this huge laundry list of issues.  Get your act together!”.

Unless FERC has a massive turn around, I expect the same sorts of problems with the PennEast FEIS (and possibly worse), and hopefully EPA will call them out on that as well.

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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 three cats Ponce de Leon, Oliver, and Doolittle.

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