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Caught in FERC legal limbo

By Fritz Mayer
October 24, 2012

For residents fighting the compressor station, the good news is that the relevant federal agency has agreed to a rehearing. The bad news is that the project may be completed before the rehearing is held.

The agency is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the project is the controversial Minisink compressor station being built by Millennium Pipeline Company. The project is opposed by a group called Stop the Minisink Compressor Station (StopMCS), which is comprised of residents who live within a half mile of the proposed site.

StopMCS has lodged health and safety concerns with FERC and were unable to stop the September 26 decision that allowed the project to go forward. Two of the five FERC commissioners agreed with StopMCS that an alternative site would be preferable. StopMCS took the matter to court and a federal judge issued a stay in early October, but after all five commissioners opposed the stay, it was lifted on October 12.

Now, the group would like to continue the case in federal court, and FERC has agreed to a rehearing. The case can’t go to federal court until the rehearing is held and FERC issues a final decision. In the meantime, Millennium is allowed to move forward with construction.

A spokeswoman for FERC, Tamara Young-Allen, wrote in an email that all decisions by the commissioners are subject to a rehearing, but “approved projects may proceed forward in accordance with the commission order as the commission reviews the appeal requests.”

One perhaps surprising feature about this process is that the commissioners can give themselves as much time as they want to review the matter, and that reviews in the past have been known to last years. Further, FERC is not required to give a date by which the decision will be made.

For Pramilla Malick, a member of StopMCS, that part of the process makes no sense. She said, “Our concern is that the further this proceeds along, it’s going to be much harder for a court to reverse. Even if they agree with us on the facts, they may say ‘now it’s a moot point because it’s already built.’

“This is a very well–thought, sophisticated game that gets played between the regulators and the industry, and it’s basically to evade the environmental regulations that are in place and to keep the public in the dark, or as distanced from the process as possible,” Malick said.