AG Challenges Federal Agency for Inadequate Review of Gas Pipelines

Tom Johnson | July 27, 2018 | Energy & Environment
Gurbir Grewal among several attorneys general critical of FERC’s decision to not take climate change into account in certification process

natural gas pipeline
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is failing in its mission if it does not consider how new natural gas pipelines contribute to climate change, according to comments submitted yesterday by New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Joining five other states and the District of Columbia in a challenge to FERC’S “inadequate review” of the pipelines, Grewal told the federal agency its present policy for pipeline review and certification does not fully satisfy its obligations to protect the public interest.

“Unless FERC considers how a new pipeline contributes to climate change, it cannot fulfill its statutory mission, because there is nothing more critical to the public interest,’’ Grewal said in the accompanying comments. The agency is seeking input on updates to its gas pipeline certification policy, which was last updated in 1999.

Grewal and the other states’ position contrasts with FERC’s recent announcement that it will refuse to consider the greenhouse-gas impacts of new pipelines, a decision described by critics as the “wrong call.’’

The federal agency has come under intense scrutiny in recent years as cheap natural gas supplies have led to a rapid expansion of pipelines across the country, including New Jersey. More than a dozen new gas pipelines have been proposed in the past few years, most triggering enormous opposition from residents and conservation groups.

Grewal: ‘FERC needs to be much more careful’

The Attorney General’s office has joined that fight also, challenging FERC’s decision to grant a certificate authorizing the PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC, to move forward with a 120-mile project through parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Not only does FERC ignore climate-change implications, the Attorney General argued the agency fails to consider the full range of environmental impacts. “As the Attorney General for a state impacted by natural gas pipeline approvals, I know that FERC needs to be much more careful in its overall approach to pipelines,’’ he said.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe agreed, saying now is the time for the agency to analyze and reduce environmental harms. “Reducing and responding to climate change is a priority for the DEP,’’ McCabe said, “and there is an urgent need for FERC to improve its review process to account for all environmental harms.’’

The attorneys general who are challenging FERC argued that, by declining to account for greenhouse gas-emissions, the agency has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that all the environmental impacts of its decisions must be considered.

Other groups also called for an overhaul on how FERC reviews pipelines. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation argued that FERC should not accept contracts with a pipeline company’s own affiliates as proof of market demand and should eliminate the authority to seize land through eminent domain before a pipeline has received all its permits.