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Anti-Pipeline Activists Call On Congress To Probe FERC

Activists protest recently against Spectra's Algonquin pipeline expansion. Grassroots groups are now asking Congress to investigate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Activists protest recently against Spectra's Algonquin pipeline expansion. Grassroots groups are now asking Congress to investigate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Photo Credit: Resist Spectra/Facebook

BUCHANAN, N.Y. – More than 100 grassroots organizations are claiming that a federal agency’s handling of gas pipeline projects – such as the one near the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan – is flawed.

The coalition is calling for a congressional review of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission , according to Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a primary organizer of the effort.

U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have called on FERC to suspend Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Intermediate Market pipeline project until independent health, safety and environmental reviews can be conducted.

FERC’s position has been that those issues have already been thoroughly analyzed, according to media reports.

According to a letter the groups sent to the top FERC officials, the agency’s review and approval process is “infected by bias."

That has resulted, they claim, "in uncontrolled and irresponsible proliferation of unneeded natural gas pipelines.”

It was signed by 182 community organizations representing communities in 35 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

FERC had "no comment" on the allegations, said agency spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen Friday.

The coalition accused FERC of using provisions in the Natural Gas Act to “strip people and states of their legal rights.”

It also alleges that the agency is preventing fair public participation in the review process and is improperly using eminent domain to take public and private lands.

Local activists have most recently protested Spectra’s construction of the pipeline through the Blue Mountain Reservation, a 1,538-acre park in Peekskill.

The groups are also asking Congress to reform the Natural Gas Act, which, they say, gives too much power to FERC and not enough to state and local officials.

Peekskill resident Courtney Williams, of Safe Energy Rights Group and Resist Spectra, said FERC has "failed" communities living along the pipeline route.

“When an appointed commission is clearly not answerable to any elected official at any level of state or federal government there is a problem,” she said.

Meanwhile, Riverkeeper and other groups such as the Sierra Club Lower Hudson have filed a motion for a stay asking a federal court to halt construction on the pipeline.

According to the coalition, the AIM project is just the first of three expansions; the other two being Atlantic Bridge, which will replace another 10.9 miles of pipeline with a larger diameter pipe, and Access Northeast, a 125-mile expansion and a gas storage facility in Massachusetts.

Together, they are intended to bring fracked gas from the Mid-Atlantic region to New England and to terminals in Canada for shipping overseas, the coalition said.

A lawsuit challenging FERC’s approval of the project is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Riverkeeper alleges that nuclear and pipeline safety experts have disputed an analysis of the blast radius of a pipeline explosion done by Entergy, the owners of Indian Point, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“If the AIM pipeline explodes, Indian Point will go with it,” said Jennifer McCave, staff attorney with Riverkeeper.

A spokesman for Entergy Friday dubbed McCave's statement "absolute fear-mongering with no basis in science or engineering."

"Multiple independent studies demonstrate Indian Point is safe from a worst-case postulated pipeline accident," Jerry Nappi said.

Entergy asked Spectra to make "many enhancements" to the part of the pipeline near Indian Point, Nappi said.

Those enhancements include: burying the pipe deeper, more comprehensive weld inspections and protective concrete mats over the pipeline, he added.

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