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Federal court sides with environmental groups; FERC did not properly conduct environmental review

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company works on the preparation for the Northeast Upgrade Project in August 2011.

By Fritz Mayer
June 6, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a victory for environmental groups, a federal court ruled on June 6 that a federal agency ran afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in granting certificates for the upgrade of pipeline projects in Northeast Pennsylvania and Northern New Jersey.

According to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, one of three environmental groups that brought the lawsuit, the decision means that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will have to do further analysis of the project, most of which is already complete and operational, and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company (TGP) may have to undertake additional mitigation measures.

Specifically, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that FERC allowed for the "segmentation" of the review of the project. The court wrote, "On the record before us, we hold that in conducting its environmental review of the Northeast Project without considering the other connected, closely related, and interdependent projects on the Eastern Leg, FERC impermissibly segmented the environmental review in violation of NEPA. We also find that FERC’s Environmental Assessment is deficient in its failure to include any meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of the upgrade projects. We therefore grant the petition for review and remand the case to the commission for further consideration of segmentation and cumulative impacts.”

The three-judge panel was unanimous in the ruling.

Kinder Morgan, Inc. the parent company of TGP, responded with a statement that said, “We are reviewing the opinion and generally do not comment on pending litigation. However, whether the completed expansion projects are considered individually, as FERC did, or cumulatively, we do not expect any change in the ultimate conclusion that there was no significant environmental impact resulting from the projects.”

The environmental organizations were nevertheless pleased with the ruling.