FERC overrides New York pipeline permit denial: Update
Adds comments from New York regulators, Millennium pipeline
Washington, 15 September (Argus) — The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today overruled New York's denial of a permit needed to expand the Millennium natural gas pipeline after finding the state waited too long to make a decision.
FERC found the New York Department of Environmental Conservation waived its authority to approve or deny a water permit for a 123mn cf/d (3mn m³/d) pipeline extension by exceeding a one-year decision deadline. The state should have reached a permitting decision by 23 November 2016, the agency said, but instead waited an additional nine months before denying the permit.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation said it was reviewing the decision and would consider "all legal options to protect public health and the environment."
The decision marks a major win for the natural gas sector, which argues New York has been using its water permitting authority under the Clean Water Act as an effective veto against pipelines. FERC's decision moves Millennium closer to being able to construct an 8-mile (13km) extension to the CPV Valley Energy Center, a 630MW power plant set to begin operations in February 2018.
Millennium said FERC's decision was "positive step forward" for the project and said it planned to request permission to start construction next week. The company said it wanted to fully cooperate with New York on "all issues related to water" and would uphold an earlier agreement to minimize effects on water crossings and wetlands.
The permitting dispute centered on when the one-year deadline began for New York to act. Millennium said the clock started on 23 November 2015, when the state received the permit application. But the state argued the application needed changes and was not "complete" until 31 August 2016, which it said allowed it an additional nine months to finish its review.
New York denied the permit on 30 August for reasons unrelated to water quality. The state said that FERC's review of the project was "inadequate and deficient" because it did not estimate the greenhouse gas emissions from burning natural gas at the CPV Valley Energy Center. It based its decision on a recent court ruling regarding an unrelated pipeline in Florida.
FERC today did not address the merits of the permit denial. It instead found under the plain language of the Clean Water Act that New York only had one year after receipt of the permit application before the deadline expired. New York could have denied the water permit, the agency said, but only before the one-year deadline elapsed.
Natural gas groups cheered FERC's decision. The US Congress did not intend for a single state to be able to "unilaterally veto" pipeline projects and prevent neighboring states from accessing natural gas supplies by denying water permits, Natural Gas Supply Association president Dena Wiggins said.