United States: FERC Affirms Its Environmental Analysis In Columbia's East Side Expansion Project

On October 14, 2015, FERC issued an order ("October 14 Order") denying rehearing and stay of its December 18, 2014 order ("December 18 Order") authorizing Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC ("Columbia") to construct and operate its East Side Expansion Project and abandon facilities that will be replaced as part of the project.  In the October 14 Order, FERC found that it had fully addressed environmental issues raised by the Clean Air Council and the Allegheny Defense Project ("Allegheny") in its environmental assessment ("EA") and the December 18 Order.

Columbia proposed to construct and operate the East Side Expansion Project to increase firm transportation service on the Columbia system by 312,000 dekatherms to serve the mid-Atlantic and northeast markets.  The project would involve looping existing pipelines; replacing compressors at the Milford and Easton Compressor Stations; and installing various measurement, station piping, valves, and appurtenant facilities at certain other existing sites.  In the December 18 Order, FERC found that construction of the East Side Expansion Project was in the public interest.  FERC also concluded after preparing an EA that, with the mitigation measures listed in the December 18 Order, the project would not constitute a major federal action.  The Clean Air Council and Allegheny filed requests for rehearing in January 2015, and the Clean Air Council filed a request for stay in April 2015.

In the October 14 Order, FERC first denied the Clean Air Council's request for stay, determining that the proposed action would not have a significant impact on the human environment and would not result in irreparable harm.  With respect to the requests for rehearing, FERC first found that the December 18 Order fully addressed the Clean Air Council's segmentation claims that the project would cause Columbia to carry out further looping of the pipeline system.  FERC also found that the record did not demonstrate the requisite reasonably close causal relationship between the impacts of future natural gas production and the East Side Expansion Project to necessitate further indirect effects analysis.  Similarly, FERC stated that the EA appropriately concluded that, when considered with the other projects planned within the relevant regions, the project would not result in significant long-term cumulative effects.

In addition, FERC found that (1) there was no need for a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement because FERC was not engaged in regional planning, (2) the analysis of fugitive emissions of criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions was complete and adequate to conclude there would be no significant impacts on air quality, (3) the EA properly considered potential greenhouse gas emissions, (4) the project does not threaten a violation of a Pennsylvania law that preserves the environment, (5) the EA properly considered the no-action alternative and stated the purpose and need for the project, and (6) the project is in the public interest.

A copy of the order is available here.

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