FERC OK’s Controversial Pipeline Project as Region Still Struggles To Rebuild After Floods

Decision ignores public outcry and EPA recommendation, advocates poised to challenge in court


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5235

Ignoring a recommendation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calls from state elected officials, and more than 22,000 members of the public, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a controversial pipeline through the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania last night.

World’s End State Park, part of the Endless Mountains, and the adjacent state forest where gas drilling has been approved. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Michael Forster Rothbart / mfrphoto.com)

The Central New York Oil and Gas Company (CNYOG) now has the federal approval it needs to begin building its 39-mile industrial gas pipeline—cutting down more than 200,000 mature trees, tearing up almost 600 acres of land and crossing more than 100 waterways in the process.

FERC’s approval also grants CNYOG the power of eminent domain, which could subject unwilling landowners to forced seizure of their property. The pipeline project cuts through land owned by more than 100 separate property owners.
(View a map of the proposed pipeline route.)

Advocates and local residents are poised to challenge the decision in court. First, FERC requires that they file a motion for rehearing and wait up to 30 days.

“People in the Endless Mountains are still struggling to rebuild after devastating floods ruined homes, washed out roadways, and polluted communities. A hastily approved and constructed pipeline is the last thing this region needs right now,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg. “But the out-of-town company that wants to build this pipeline seems not to notice or care. Perhaps a court will convince them otherwise.”

FERC maintains that the project does not warrant a thorough and comprehensive environmental review, a view that drew objections from state and federal officials and tens of thousands of members of the public earlier this summer.

Regional EPA officials submitted formal comments, pointing to the expected environmental impacts of the project and the large volume of comments from the public and calling for a complete Environment Impact Statement (EIS) of the project. FERC ignored the recommendation.

“It’s troubling that FERC chose to ignore the recommendation from experts at the Environmental Protection Agency and give this controversial project a green light,” said Drs. Anne Harris Katz and Harvey M. Katz, both scientists with the Coalition for Responsible Growth and Resource Conservation. “In doing so, the Commission has missed an opportunity to seriously study the impacts of this project. The people and wildlife inhabiting the Endless Mountains will suffer significant negative consequences.”

Pennsylvania State Representative Richard Mirabito (D-Williamsport) and 34 other representatives, representing more than 2 million voters, submitted a letter to FERC also asking the Commission for an EIS. Mirabito hosted a town hall meeting that addressed residents’ pipeline concerns on August 11.

“It’s truly disappointing to see the Commission rubber-stamping this controversial proposal, especially when there are so many lingering questions,” said Sullivan County resident and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability member John Trallo. “Are we really going to grant CNYOG the power to seize land for the pipeline without landowners’ permission, without knowing more about the project’s impacts to property values, the local tourism industry, and water supplies?”

The pipeline proposal comes as other parts of the state struggle with an explosive rate of gas drilling and an outbreak of industrial accidents and pollution related to rushed and irresponsible development. The decision allows infrastructure construction to proceed without any comprehensive environmental analysis.

In recent months, state cleanup crews have struggled to contain a pipeline drilling blowout that leaked drilling muds and chemicals into Laurel Lake Creek in Susquehanna County. A similar drilling process will be used in the construction of the MARC I line under the Susquehanna River.

“It’s clear that industry is moving in before they understand the conditions where they are building, and that’s a recipe for disaster, especially in light of historic flooding in the region,” said Thomas Au, Conservation Chair of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. “CNYOG is planning to build on steep slopes when they could use terrain that is less vulnerable to erosion. We can be sure that we will see terrible pollution of the exceptional value streams in the Endless Mountains, just as we saw the pollution of Laurel Lake Creek.”

For generations, visitors have flocked to the Endless Mountains in Northeast Pennsylvania to enjoy the region’s river gateways, rolling hills, family farms, river towns, historic districts and quaint rural villages—helping to feed the state’s $26-billion-a-year tourism industry. The project will replace the region’s wooded mountains and pastoral landscapes with 39 miles of pipeline, access roads, massive compressor units, filter separators, gas coolers and other industrial machinery.

“My guests come here because they enjoy the beautiful serenity, the starlight, the sun and moon dancing off the creek,” said Andrea Young, owner of the Creekview Country Cottage Bed & Breakfast. “The pipeline will disrupt all the peace my guests have come to expect. And my business will suffer.”

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