Court Tosses Case Against FERC, Helps Ease the Way for PennEast

Tom Johnson | March 24, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Judge rules that environmental group did not demonstrate bias on part of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when reviewing projects

natural gas pipeline
PennEast has averted another delay in its proposed 120-mile pipeline through parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania now that a court threw out a lawsuit accusing a federal agency of bias in reviewing energy projects.

In a 20-page ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a lawsuit filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, one of many groups opposing the project, against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was dismissed on Wednesday.

In the decision, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan found the conservation organization did not make the case that the federal agency’s regulatory process is biased. The lawsuit alleged that fees paid to FERC by applicants, such as PennEast, created an institutional bias.

The ruling removes one hurdle confronting the controversial project, which has stirred widespread opposition on both sides of the Delaware River. In New Jersey, criticism has focused on whether it is needed and on its route, which crosses many bodies of water and wetlands, and cuts through preserved parkland and farmland.

The project has encountered numerous delays, including at FERC, which is now reviewing and expected to issue a final Environmental Impact Statement sometime next month.

PennEast Pipeline Co. issued a statement praising the court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

“This is the latest example of opposition groups wasting time, tax dollars, and government resources with baseless claims and ridiculous lawsuits,’’ said Pat Kornick, a spokesperson for the company.

‘’Despite scare tactics from opposition groups, the reality is that two government agencies under Democratic administrations have determined that PennEast Pipeline can be constructed with minimal impact on the environment,’’ Kornick said.

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, expressed concerns about the ruling. The organization filed the lawsuit against the agency last March.

“My biggest concern about this decision is that it means that at this point, all branches of government have taken a pass on checking FERC’s abuses of process and law when it comes to the review and approval process,’’ she said.

“Their environmental reviews are getting worse, simply embracing the bad information provided by the pipeline companies and ignoring the hard data and evidence provided by the communities,’’ she added.

In July, the federal agency issued a draft EIS that said the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but added they could be reduced to less-than-significant levels. Since then, there have been some modifications in the route by the applicant.

If the company gets a favorable decision, it anticipates beginning construction on the pipeline within approximately 90 days.