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Local Commentary: All sides should comment on proposed NED Pipeline

Posted on: October 27th, 2015
by David Ganje

NED Pipeline
ContributedThis map from Kinder Morgan shows the Pennsylvania and New York portions of the route for the company’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.

By David Ganje Local Commentary

As demand for natural gas has increased, so too has the need to overhaul the region’s delivery infrastructure. One proposed development is the Northeast Energy Development Pipeline, which will connect the natural gas fields of Pennsylvania to the New York Capital Region, before continuing on to connect with Boston and other parts of New England.

The proposed NED Pipeline is currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As part of the review process, FERC considers a variety of factors, including public commentary. Originally, the NED deadline for accepting public commentary was scheduled to expire on Aug. 31. However, after urging from several sources, including U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, the public commentary period was extended and remains open.

As part of the review process, both FERC and Kinder Morgan have hosted town hall-style meetings where members of the public are able to pose questions directly to officials and various experts. Further, the public is able to submit their commentary directly to FERC through the agency’s website athttps://ferconline.ferc.gov/QuickComment.aspx under docket number PF 14-22-000.

As of Oct. 13, nearly 6,000 comments had been submitted to FERC via the online tool. Comment sources range from civic groups, businesses, and school districts, to various special interest groups, and perhaps most importantly from private citizens.

Public commentary is an important part of FERC’s review process because it allows private citizens and groups to raise individualized concerns. During review, FERC reviews a variety of sources such as professionally prepared environmental or economic impact assessment reports. However, public commentary also plays a crucial role in the review process.

FERC itself states that public commentary raises issues that might otherwise escape notice by the agency, such as:

• “Environmental and socioeconomic resources that are important and should be examined by FERC,”

• “Other alternatives to the proposed project that should be evaluated,”

•  or even “Mitigative measures that they want the FERC to include in any approvals issued.”

Of course, FERC must consider a plurality of interests when reviewing a proposed project, including natural gas pipelines. Private interests and concerns are just one piece of the puzzle, as FERC also owes a duty to serve the broader public interest. However, legitimate and well-presented concerns raised during public commentary have the potential to bring about significant results. This can vary from delaying or extending the review process, to changing a pipeline projects route altogether to avoid sensitive areas that had previously escaped notice.

Public commentary is also the first step toward becoming an “intervener.” During the public commentary phase private citizens with legitimate questions about the NED’s potential impact can seek to have those questions addressed. After raising a question during public commentary, a citizen with lingering questions can go through a more formal process and become an “intervener.” 

To become an intervener, one must prepare and file a Motion to Intervene with FERC. After acceptance by FERC, an official “intervener” may actually appeal a FERC decision in Federal Court should they feel the situation warrants such action. Due to the formal nature of becoming an “intervener,” it is probably wise to seek assistance of counsel.

Public participation is a cornerstone of the democratic process. Public commentary periods are a classic example of empowering the public voice. No matter what one’s personal politics or feelings toward energy development are, participation in the process is always important.

David Ganje, of Ganje Law Offices in Albany, practices in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law in New York.