Monthly Archives: May 2017

Coalition urges FERC confirmation delay, Trump investigation

Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter
May 15, 2017

Environmentalists want the Senate to delay confirmation hearings for vacant Federal Energy Regulatory Commission posts until President Trump’s business ties and former FBI Director James Comey’s firing are investigated. Photo by Ryan McKnight, courtesy of Flickr.

More than 160 groups opposing President Trump’s nominations for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called today for delaying Senate confirmation hearings while lawmakers probe the president’s potential conflicts of interest and ties to foreign governments.

“President Trump’s unknown personal and professional ties with foreign leaders and foreign corporations raise serious and legitimate concerns for those he would seek to install in these highly consequential positions,” a number of groups, including the newly formed “FERC Vacancies Campaign,” wrote to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Also signing the letter were Green America, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Beyond Extreme Energy.

The groups, which are also meeting with members of the Senate panel next week, argue that Trump’s FERC picks — Neil Chatterjee, a top energy aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson — could be subject to “behind-the-scenes pressure” from the president.

FERC is led by acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable, both Democrats, who have been unable to make high-profile decisions since former FERC Chairman Norman Bay abruptly left in February, depriving the five-seat commission of a quorum.

“FERC’s role in protecting the U.S. energy grid is essential to our national security,” the groups told Murkowski. “Recent events regarding President Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey, including his apparent demand for loyalty in how the Director carried out his decision making and activities as head of the FBI, heightens our alarm and concern.”

Their letter is part of a broader effort to align FERC critics with bipartisan fallout Trump is facing after the firing last week of FBI Director James Comey. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged the president to stop talking or tweeting about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and allow the inquiry to move forward.

In their letter, the groups demanded Chatterjee and Powelson’s confirmation hearing be delayed until a hearing is held to investigate “multiple and documented reports” of what they say amounts to FERC misusing its authority to block challenges to federal pipeline approvals, rushing environmental assessments and unfairly granting eminent domain.
Delaware Riverkeeper has made similar arguments in court. In April, the group filed an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenging a lower court’s decision to toss a lawsuit against FERC for its alleged bias toward approving pipelines (Energywire, April 21).

Despite calls for a delay in FERC confirmations, Murkowski last week said she’ll move “as quick as possible” to restore FERC’s quorum.

And Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member, said last week that she was unfamiliar with Powelson but planned to research his background. Cantwell also said she’d already had a brief conversation about “market manipulation” with Chatterjee. The FERC nominee had also helped Cantwell and Murkowski navigate energy conference talks with the House last year, the senator said.

Ted Glick, a member of Beyond Extreme Energy, acknowledged calls for a delay may not stick given the bipartisan push to re-establish FERC’s quorum and the agency’s ability to make high-profile decisions.

“We know it’s a long shot, we’re not stupid,” Glick said. “We also know it’s the right thing to do. Sooner or later, you start winning victories.”

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Pipeline opponents vow to fight effort to reduce charges in Otis protests

By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
May 11, 2017

GREAT BARRINGTON — The state wants to reduce the charges against a group of anti-pipeline protesters who were arrested in Otis State Forest last week, but the activists are having none of it.

During an appearance at Southern Berkshire District Court on Thursday, 24 members of the Sugar Shack Alliance bristled when Judge Paul M. Vrabel ordered a civil responsibility hearing on June 20, at which a motion for the change will be made.

Alliance members, who had prepared to be arraigned on charges of trespassing on state property, came bearing “not guilty” signs to hold up at a press conference after the proceedings.

“The state pulled a trick on us,” said alliance member Vivienne Simon on the courthouse steps. “We were caught off guard today.”

Alliance members were arrested on Department of Conservation Resources land for blocking an access road and temporarily stopping ongoing tree cutting and clearing for 2 miles of new pipeline. Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. won an easement from the state last year to expand an existing corridor in Sandisfield for its Connecticut Expansion Project, a 13 mile natural gas storage loop that will run through three states.

Eighteen arrests were made May 2; six more protesters were arrested Saturday.

Berkshire District Attorney spokesman Frederick Lantz said reducing the charges is “fairly common practice when it is prudent and appropriate — legislators and the courts have asked us to do that.”

He said the less-serious civil charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct will keep the activists out of jail. They will still have to pay the $100 fine, however.

The protesters vowed to fight that change, saying the criminal charge they currently face better allows them to make their point about their arrest while trying to stop the pipeline project.

Simon, who was arrested May 2, said the state fears publicity from a trial that would allow the group to “address climate chaos” and get their message out.

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Republicans fail to repeal methane regulations for drilling on public lands

Vote on Obama-era rule to reduce emissions from oil and gas drilling on federal land fails 51-49 as three Republican senators defect

oil pumps
Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, about 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

A Republican move to undo limits on the emission of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has suffered an unexpected defeat in the Senate.

A bill to repeal a Department of Interior rule that reduces the venting, flaring and leaking of methane from oil and gas drilling on federal land failed by 51 votes to 49, with Republicans John McCain, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham siding with Democrats to vote it down.

The unexpected defeat is a blow to Republicans who eyed the methane rule as a priority for repeal. The rule, crafted under Barack Obama’s administration, would prevent around 180,000 tons of methane entering the atmosphere a year and save states more than $20m a year in lost royalty revenues.

Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, being about 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. About a third of US methane emissions come from oil and gas drilling, which put the industry in the sights of the Obama administration’s climate change agenda.

Donald Trump has supported ditching the methane rule, which requires operators to use the latest technology to prevent leaks, and the House passed a bill to get rid of it. The Republican-controlled Senate appeared set to follow suit after senator Rob Portman of Ohio, considered a swing voter, said the rule “would have hurt our economy and cost jobs in Ohio by forcing small, independent operators to close existing wells and slowing responsible energy production on federal lands”.

However, the vote has instead resulted in a surprise win for environmental groups and climate researchers, who warn that methane emissions must be curbed if the US is to avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

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TGP Urges FERC to Reject Connecticut Expansion Challenges, Avoid Delays

by Jeremiah Shelor, Natural Gas Intelligencer
May 9, 2017

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC (TGP) is pushing back against efforts to stall progress on its Connecticut Expansion Project [CP14-529], telling FERC that an opposition group’s motion for a stay of construction is based on “hyperbolic” and “unsupported” claims.

In a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission late last week, TGP asked to respond to arguments submitted against the Connecticut Expansion by the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network (MassPLAN) and the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

Last month, FERC granted TGP a notice to proceed with tree clearing and construction for the Connecticut Expansion, a 72,100 Dth/d project consisting of three pipeline loops in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut totaling 13.42 miles.

TGP told FERC that it needs to finish tree clearing this month in order to stay on track to bring the project online in time for the winter 2017-18 heating season. Three New England local distribution companies have subscribed to the Connecticut Expansion’s full capacity.

TGP said MassPLAN’s claims that the group will suffer “irreparable harm” from tree-clearing should be denied since “the Commission has found already in this proceeding that such tree cutting does not rise to the level of irreparable harm” meriting a stay. This is partly because the Massachusetts portion of the project is located on or next to existing pipeline rights-of-way, TGP noted.

Further, a delay would harm TGP and its customers, the operator told FERC.

“The construction schedule for the Project, which has already been delayed for more than a year, has been crafted to comply with various environmental permits and clearances that allow only limited time windows to perform certain critical construction activities,” TGP wrote. With work already underway, “any delay would have serious repercussions.

“Tennessee must complete tree-clearing activities as soon as possible…Ensuring completion of tree-clearing by the May 31 deadline will also allow Tennessee to cut trees in a manner that maximizes protection of migratory bird habitat and meets federal permitting requirements.”

TGP also responded to claims that FERC’s Director of the Office of Energy Projects (OEP) did not have authority to issue the notice to proceed with construction.

Opposition groups have pursued a number of pipeline challenges highlighting the Commission’s current lack of a quorum. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) last month called on acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur to halt the Connecticut Expansion, pointing to a rehearing request submitted a year earlier, when FERC still had a quorum.

“For FERC to allow” TGP to proceed with construction “when it lacks a quorum and, therefore, cannot act on the rehearing request, is profoundly troubling,” the senators wrote.

TGP noted that the Commission has delegated authority to the OEP director to oversee implementation of the certificateorderfor the expansion, in addition to powers delegated to the director through regulation.

“Such delegations were properly made when the Commission had a quorum and are still in effect today,” TGP wrote.

An end to FERC’s quorumless stretch is in sight after the Trump administration officially announced late Monday that it will nominate Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to fill two incomplete terms left by former commissioners. Chatterjee and Powelson had been rumored in connection with the vacancies.

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Tenn. Gas Pipeline responds to protester arrests

by RICHIE DAVIS, Greenfield Recorder Staff
May 03, 2017

SANDISFIELD — Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. said in a statement issued following Tuesday’s arrest of 18 protesters at the Otis State Forest site of its planned Connecticut Expansion Project that it has completed the installation and inspection of erosion protection devices on its right-of-way. It will soon begin full construction activities for the project, which it hopes to complete by Nov. 1.

The project, including a 2.3-mile path through the forest, “has received all required state and federal approvals to begin construction, including tree clearing,” said the statement. The Narragansett Indian Tribal Council Historic Preservation Office maintains that the process for adhering to the National Historic Presevation Act was not followed properly.
Eighteen protesters, including Ashfield Selectman Ron Coler, were arrested Tuesday morning at two nearby entrances to the forest after they blocked pipeline project access roads. They were protesting the government allowing the private company to build its pipeline through protected public lands.

TGP, whose contractors were attempting to begin preparatory work on its project, said in its statement that it “respects the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful and lawful protests. It is our desire that protest activity be peaceful and lawful and that work areas are not disturbed or damaged. We are working closely with local, state and federal law authorities to seek to ensure that protesters have a safe and secure opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights, including providing a secure area for them to do so, while, at the same time, providing for the safety and security for the much-needed critical infrastructure project.”

The company added it “is continuing work on its right-of-way … and is diligently seeking to adhere to permit and other conditions associated with state and federal approvals, including approval to proceed with construction granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Numerous issues relating to protection of the environment, the natural habitat, Native American sites/features, tribal consultation with federally recognized tribes, and a host of related matters have undergone extensive state and federal reviews during the course of the permitting process.”

Several protesters, members of the Sugar Shack Alliance of 17 affinity groups, crossed into land now closed to the public. Another group split off and blocked a second access road.

Coler, along with Steve Stoia of Northfield, Susan Triolo of Sunderland, Hattie Nestel of Athol, John Cohen of Northampton, Martin Urbel if Northampton, Ben Van Arnem of Easthampton, Rema Loeb of Plainfield and Vivienne Simon of Florence, were released without bail after being charged with trespass and disorderly conduct on Access Road 3.
Nine other arrests were made of protesters who blocked Access Road Number 2: Jim Perkins and Asaph Murfin of Leverett, Diane Sibley of Ashfield, Russell and Lydia Vernon-Jones of Amherst, Micky McKinley of Montague, Amy Tulley of Cummington, Joan Levy of Pelham, and Kevin Young of Northampton.

Pipeline resistance builds as ‘Thoreau’ protest cabin goes up in Otis State Forest

by Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle

May 8, 2017

SANDISFIELD — Same pipeline company. Same cabin. Different place.

As a vicious wind shot through the pipeline corridor in Otis State Forest, activists began installing a 10-by-15-foot cabin on adjacent private land, a post and beam structure made famous for its year-long use in Ashfield last year to protest Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (NED).

While the company eventually shut down its plans for NED, citing gas demand issues, subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Connecticut Expansion Project looks like it will make the finish line.

The cabin may not, however. Members of Sugar Shack Alliance, an anti-pipeline group, were well into construction when a town official came to tell members the structure violated local zoning laws because it is within 30 feet of the state property line. He said the state Department of Conservation Resources had just filed a complaint, according to Sugar Shack spokeswoman Abby Ferla. 

It all began earlier, when just over a low orange fence demarcating the company’s easement on state-owned land, workers slowly took trees down one by one with a chainsaw, guiding them with ropes to fall away from the existing corridor where a slice of private land crosses it, and where the activists have been assembling.

The owner of this land, Susan Baxter, kept this particular stand of trees from the saw by sitting on a rock at the property line, while workers cut around it. 

Trees in this roughly 2 miles of state forest that required cutting for the company’s natural gas storage loop are almost all gone but for this last swath. The $93 million, 13-mile tri-state line has been delayed about a year by legal challenges on a number of grounds as the state and other groups fought the project. 

But here it finally is. Just over a week into cutting and already 24 arrests have been made during peaceful protests last Tuesday and Saturday.

Now Sugar Shack activists are settling in on Baxter’s land for the 6 month construction period, traveling here in their spare time to continue this resistance.

“It’s a place to witness and let [the company] know we’re still watching,” said Sugar Shack spokeswoman Abby Ferla.

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Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office Requests Rehearing Says FERC Violated the National Historic Preservation Act

May 9, 2017

Rhode Island ­ The Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO) filed a request for rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today, accusing the agency of violating the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by delaying the study of ceremonial stone landscapes until a year after it issued its environmental assessment of the project and by failing to consult with NITHPO to resolve adverse impacts to over twenty religious and cultural features. This is a breach of FERC’s fiduciary duty to the Indian tribe.

FERC authorized Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC (TGP) to proceed with construction on the Connecticut Expansion Project on April 12, 2017. FERC’s order said that all the environment conditions had been met and federal authorizations received. NITHPO’s request for rehearing shows that procedures required under Section 106 of the NHPA were not followed.

“Instead of consulting, FERC just told us what TGP was going to do,” said Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

TGP’s Treatment Plan calls for destruction and reconstruction of one-third of the seventy-three ceremonial stone landscapes. Mr. Harris characterizes this plan as an act of desecration.

“These are ‘prayers in stone,’ ” he said. “If you take them apart and reconfigure them, then what you have is an artistic replica of something that was spiritual. Once you remove the stones, the spiritual content is broken.”

FERC not only failed to engage in meaningful consultations with NITHPO, it also delayed studying these cultural resources until it was too late to protect them.

“The NHPA requires federal agencies to study cultural resources before they issue a license, so that adverse impacts can be avoided,” said Anne Marie Garti, attorney for NITHPO. “FERC admitted that by the time the survey of ceremonial stone landscapes was performed it was too late to pick an alternative. That means FERC broke the law.”

In addition to its statutory requirements, FERC is obligated to hold government-to-government consultations with Indian tribes. It is not authorized to delegate this duty to TGP or to any other project proponent. Federal agencies are also required to treat tribal resources like assets in a trust. By waiting until it was too late to avoid these cultural resources, FERC breached its fiduciary duty to NITHPO.

» View Latest FERC filing by NITHPO, requesting rehearing
» Read more on the Ceremonial Stone Landscape issue

» Keep up with latest news on #CTExpansion pipeline

»» DONATE to the fight to save these ancient native sites
(via Climate Action Now)