September 20, 2017

Constitution Pipeline in NY Rejected by Court

Ny DEC had the right to reject the water permit required for the project
By Joseph Spector, Poughkeepsie Journal, August 18, 2017

Download the Court’s ruling as a pdf.
Read NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s statement about the ruling.

A federal Court of Appeals on Friday rejected a lawsuit from the owners of the Constitution Pipeline that challenged a state decision last year to not grant the project a water-quality permit.

The controversial, 121-mile natural-gas pipeline has been planned to run through the Southern Tier and into the Catskills and Mohawk Valley.

The Constitution Pipeline Co. sued in May 2016 to overturn the decision from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that rejected the project.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in Manhattan, sided with the state, saying the DEC had the right to reject or approve the water permit.

“In sum, NYSDEC is responsible for evaluating the environmental impacts of a proposed pipeline on New York waterbodies in light of the State’s water quality standards,” the three-judge panel wrote.

The decision added that the courts “defer to NYSDEC’s expertise as to the significance of the information requested from Constitution, given the record evidence supporting the relevance of that information to NYSDEC’s certification determination.”

The court ruling is the latest blow to the project, which would run from Pennsylvania and into Broome, Chenango and Delaware counties in the Southern Tier, ending in Schoharie County, 80 miles southwest of Albany. About 100 miles of it would run through New York.

The company, which has been led energy company Williams Partners, said the decision doesn’t spell the end of the project. The project also has included Cabot Oil & Gas and Piedmont Natural Gas.

“The Constitution Pipeline is critical energy infrastructure that promises to help the state of New York achieve its Clean Energy Standard,” Williams, a Tulsa, Ok., based company said in a statement.

“As New York invests in intermittent, more costly resources like solar and offshore wind and evolves its nuclear fleet, Constitution will create a reliable and affordable supply of clean, American-produced energy.”

The company also took solace in the court’s decision that recognized the federal Natural Gas Act can also decide the project, saying the wording allows the project to continue to seek final, federal approval. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the project a construction certificate in 2014, but it still needed state permits.

“While we would have preferred an immediate decision that would have moved the project forward, we are encouraged that we now have a path to final approval,” the company said about Friday’s decision.

Still, state officials said the court decision was strong rebuke of the project — which has also been opposed by environmental groups.

The DEC rejected the project in part because it failed “to meet New York state’s water quality standards” and endangered 250 streams. And the DEC and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged that the company cut down trees for the pipeline before getting state approval.

“New York must be able to do what’s necessary to protect our environment – and we’re glad that the court agreed,” Schneiderman said in a statement Friday. “It would be unacceptable for a pipeline — or any project — to pollute our waters and undermine New Yorkers’ health and water resources.”

DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said the agency’s findings in the case were based on the merits of its water-quality standards.

“We hope this his sends a loud message that New York will not rubber stamp any project that fails to protect public health and our environment,” Seggos said in a statement.