A coalition of environmental groups filed comments today with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, taking issue with the Commission’s draft environmental impact statement on the controversial 124-mile “Constitution” natural gas pipeline proposed to run through portions of New York and Pennsylvania. The groups claim that FERC’s assessment is missing key information about substantial environmental and public health risks associated with the pipeline that need to be addressed in a revised draft made subject to a second round of public scrutiny.
“FERC’s analyses of both direct and indirect impacts from this massive pipeline are woefully incomplete and fall far short of what is required under the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Earthjustice attorney Bridget Lee. “We urge the Commission to undertake a second look and produce a more complete analysis covering the glaring omissions. We believe that when all of the issues are thoroughly explored, it will be obvious that no amount of mitigation can effectively reduce the harmful impacts caused by the construction and operation of the proposed Constitution pipeline.”
In June 2013, the Constitution Pipeline Company and Iroquois Gas Transmission System each filed an application to FERC for a certificate of public convenience and necessity. FERC, by law, is required to complete an environmental impact statement, and a first draft was made available for public commentary on February 12, 2014. However, the draft did not sufficiently address numerous and significant areas of concern including the degradation of water resources, harm to ecosystems, diminished air quality, forest fragmentation, harm to wildlife and endangered species, permanent landscape damage, threats to community safety, and a drastic change to what it means to live in the communities in the path of the pipeline.
If approved, the pipeline would cut through more than 1,862 acres of land in Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie Counties in New York and Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania. Only nine percent of the proposed 124-mile route utilizes existing rights-of-way, with the remainder decimating hundreds of thousands of trees in over 1,000 acres of forest land. This permanent conversion of forest to open land will fragment important habitat, result in increased storm-water runoff, and make the area more prone to flooding. In addition, the pipeline will cross multiple public drinking water supply sources, three watersheds, at least 91.8 acres of wetlands, and 277 waterbodies, including high quality streams, trout streams, and at least 99 protected streams.
“FERC’s draft was noticeably deficient in the scope of its evaluations and obscured much of the incredible damage the pipeline would bring,” said Andy Mason, Co-President of Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society. “It would cut through creeks, scar wetlands irreparably, destroy forests, and fragment some of the best remaining bird habitat in the region.”
In addition, the project includes two compressor stations, posing a threat to air quality and public health. These sources will emit harmful air pollution, including climate-change-causing greenhouse gases. Moreover, there is the potential to impact and potentially contaminate multiple public drinking water sources and an untold number of private drinking water wells that lie within the project area.
“First and foremost, there is absolutely no public necessity for this project. Ultimately, what this project will do more than anything else is industrialize an entire 120 mile swath of rural countryside,” said Wes Gillingham, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “The pipeline will inevitably drive more fracking-enabled gas development in the region, bringing with it water, air, and land pollution. We should not lock New York into longer addiction to fossil fuels. We need to start making a drastic shift to renewables not taking peoples land by eminent domain for corporate profit.”
“FERC needs to do a much more thorough review the environmental impacts of this project,” said Matt Walker of Clean Air Council. “The Draft EIS assumes that the majority of air pollution would be from short-term construction activities. This clearly demonstrates that FERC did not consider the 24/7 air pollution from industrial facilities needed to make the Constitution Pipeline work. If FERC were to add the pollution up from all infrastructure and indirect pollution from increased drilling, the significant impact on air quality is obvious. With that evidence, the Council urges FERC to act accordingly and deny the application. The impacts caused by the proposed pipeline are so significant to public health and the environment that they can never be remedied and justified in the public interest.”
“The Commission’s evaluation of potential harm to water resources is startlingly inadequate,” said Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director at Riverkeeper. “In New York alone, Constitution’s proposed pipeline would not only cross hundreds of wetlands and waterbodies, but also 20 aquifers, four public water supply watersheds, and dozens of private wells, all of which will be placed at risk from project construction and maintenance activities. Yet somehow, despite the fact that key information about these resources is missing from the draft EIS, the Commission has concluded they won’t be harmed. More importantly, the significant impacts to water resources that will likely result from this project are not in the public interest and unacceptable.”
The comments to FERC were prepared by public interest law firm Earthjustice on behalf of Catskill Mountainkeeper, Clean Air Council, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Riverkeeper, Inc., and Sierra Club, which intervened in the Constitution Pipeline proceedings in July 2013.