Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Two notable developments in the past few weeks signal potential changes ahead to the policies and timeframes for pipeline approvals, particularly natural gas pipelines under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversight. These developments reflect both the increased public scrutiny of the pipeline approval process seen in recent years and the emphasis placed by the current administration on expediting review and approval of major infrastructure projects, two factors that are in some tension with each other.

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On March 12, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) order finding that delays by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) in reviewing Millennium Pipeline Company’s application for water quality certification constituted waiver of NYDEC’s authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

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Federal agencies that authorize or permit large infrastructure projects, like interstate natural gas pipelines, are often subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and environmental organizations frequently rely on NEPA to challenge a project. The D.C. Circuit recently struck down a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve the construction and operation of three interstate natural gas pipelines because the Court found defects in FERC’s NEPA analysis. The court’s decision to vacate FERC’s authorization now threatens to shut down the pipelines, including the Sabal Trail pipeline currently supplying natural gas to newly constructed power plants in Florida.

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Raises the Stakes: NEPA Defect Sufficient to Halt Pipeline Operations

On January 11, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied Constitution Pipeline Company, LLC’s Petition for a Declaratory Order that New York had waived its ability to act under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by failing to grant or deny Constitution’s application for a section 401 certification within a “reasonable period of time.” See In re Constitution Pipeline Co., LLC, 162 FERC ¶ 61,014 (Jan. 11, 2018). The decision is another in a sequence of decisions from FERC and the federal courts of appeals concerning the time period for States to act under section 401.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) announced last month that it will review its policies governing the certification process for natural gas pipelines. The announcement was made by FERC Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre on December 21, 2017, in fulfillment of a pledge that he made during his Senate confirmation hearing in September 2017. The format and scope of the review are still being determined.

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On August 10, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) officially regained its quorum when Robert Powelson was formally sworn in as a commissioner. Mr. Powelson joins  fellow Republican Neil Chatterjee and Democrat Cheryl LaFleur at the agency. It was also announced that Mr. Chatterjee would be FERC’s new chairman pending the expected Senate confirmation of Republican nominee Kevin McIntyre as chairman in the fall.

At full strength, FERC has five members, but three are the minimum legally required to conduct much agency business. FERC lost its quorum in early February when former Chairman Norman Bay resigned after Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur was elevated to chairman. In addition, former Commissioner Colette Honorable stepped down at the end of June, leaving LaFleur as the sole Commissioner. For the last six months, FERC staff has handled various routine matters under delegated authority, but FERC has been unable to act in contested proceedings. Continue Reading FERC Update: Quorum Restored, Chatterjee Named Chairman, Next Steps Outlined