Environmental groups go to U.S. Court of Appeals over pipeline case

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Three environmental groups fighting a plan to repurpose a natural gas pipeline that runs through Boyle County have taken their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Allegheny Defense Project, Kentucky Resources Council and Kentucky Heartwood filed a “petition for review” with the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals on Jan. 31. The petition asks the court to examine decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) concerning Tennessee Gas Pipeline No. 1.

Houston-based energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan wants to use a 964-mile stretch of natural gas pipeline running from the gulf coast to northeast Ohio to transport “natural gas liquids,” or NGLs — byproducts of fracking in shale fields in the northeast.

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In September, FERC issued an order approving “abandonment” of the pipeline for natural gas purposes, allowing Kinder Morgan to proceed with its plan.

In October, the three environmental groups filed a “request for rehearing and motion for stay of order” with FERC, arguing FERC misinterpreted the law in approving abandonment.

In November, FERC issued a “tolling order,” giving the agency an unlimited amount of time to consider the environmental groups’ request.

It’s that tolling order that the Court of Appeals filing takes issue with.

“Petitioners timely filed a request for rehearing of the order,” the filing reads. “This request was denied by operation of law … because (FERC) did not act on the request within 30 days. Instead, (FERC) staff issued an invalid ‘tolling order,’ which does not constitute an ‘act’ on a request for rehearing under the Natural Gas Act.”

When the tolling order was first issued, Ryan Talbott with the Allegheny Defense Project said FERC regularly uses tolling orders to avoid ruling on cases while still allowing energy companies to continue wit the projects in question.

Once the project is completed, “then FERC will deny rehearing,” he said. “That’s the way this works every single time. It’s very frustrating.”

Talbott said Allegheny has been involved in a dozen or more FERC cases, contesting the plans of energy companies it believes harms Pennsylvania’s forests. FERC has issued tolling orders to delay Allegheny’s requests for rehearing in “basically all” of them.

“In every single case, there’s a tolling order and then the project moves forward,” he said.

Allegheny hasn’t yet been able to force FERC to hold a rehearing after a tolling order is issued.