Sunday 23 September 2018

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Rubberstamps Another Pipeline, Ignoring Science and Local Opposition

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on July 19, 2018, approved TransCanada’s application to build a new natural gas pipeline that would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania across Western Maryland to West Virginia, passing under the Potomac River. Three out of five FERC Commissioners voted to approve the pipeline, with a fourth concurring but disagreeing with FERC’s decision to ignore climate change impacts of expanding fracked gas infrastructure in its decision. In a strong dissent, Commissioner Glick , the fifth vote, passionately disagreed with his colleagues, calling them out for ignoring the impacts of burning natural gas, and stating that “Climate change poses an existential threat to our security, economy, environment, and, ultimately, the health of individual citizens.”

The Potomac pipeline has faced widespread public opposition in local communities along its route, and numerous public officials and municipalities voiced concerns and opposition, including County Commissions and Councils from Washing- ton, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Carroll Counties and the City Councils of Hagerstown, Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Frederick, and Washington, DC.

For over a year, we have joined our No Potomac Pipeline coalition partners in voicing our concerns to State and Federal authorities over the serious threats this pipeline has on the Potomac River, the drinking water for 6 million people. There has been a pattern of reluctance from those authorities to hear our concerns and to fully assess this pipeline project in its entirety.

A request for rehearing was filed on August 17, 2018, that argues:

  • FERC failed in its environmental review to assess properly the climate change impacts of burning the natural gas transported by this pipeline, as well as the future expansion of fracked gas ex-traction in Pennsylvania that would be facilitated by more pipeline infrastructure.
  • FERC failed to fully examine alternatives, including use of renewable energy to meet any energy needs and alternative routes, including one that would entirely avoid a crossing under the Potomac River.
  • FERC failed to verify TransCanada’s claims that the pipeline was needed to supply gas to West Virginia.
  • FERC failed to consider the construction or climate change impacts of the 23 mile Mountaineer Gas pipeline project in West Virginia, despite the fact that the two pipelines are entirely dependent on each other. Mountaineer depends on its connection with the Potomac pipeline for its gas supply, and the only reason to build the Potomac pipeline is to supply gas to Mountaineer.

A rehearing request is the first step in appealing a FERC ruling. The pipeline project still has not received permission from the National Park Service to cross the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, nor has it received an easement from the state to cross the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

It is unfortunate that FERC continues to disregard the threats to our environment from pipeline companies like TransCanada, rather than assess the true costs and recognize the impacts to our citizens and neighbors. Our earlier comments show in detail that FERC has failed its duty to prepare its environmental assessment in accordance with law, and with common sense. Instead, they continue to rubberstamp natural gas projects like this one.

Read more about the No Potomac Pipeline Campaign. Follow campaign on Facebook. Read Upper Potomac Riverkeeper's statement on FERC approval.

News:

Groups Want Rehearing on Permit for Pipeline Under the Potomac River, Herald Mail Media, August 17, 2018

Waterkeepers Chesapeake Staff Attorney Katlyn Schmitt interview (below) with The Real News Network, August 22, 2018

Environmental Organizations point to dam release as reason to hold Exelon Corporation accountable during dam relicensing

(Baltimore, Md.) – Boaters, commercial watermen and shoreline communities are coping with large amounts of trash and debris in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waterways, a result of powerful floodwaters from last week’s storms. Large piles of woody debris, plastic and other floating debris are evident on many shorelines on the Western Shore of Maryland. Environmentalists say that the debris is only one visible part of the slug of pollution that entered the Bay when the Conowingo Dam opened 20 flood gates last week in response to several days of heavy rain upstream of the dam.

“The floating debris littering the Chesapeake Bay is like the tip of an iceberg,” said Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Suquehanna Riverkeeper. “We see the debris because it floats, but underneath that is more pollution. And if the floodwaters were powerful enough to send all that trash downstream, imagine how much sediment pollution came with it. Unfortunately, that’s going to have a lasting impact on Bay water quality.”

Exelon Corporation owns and operates the dam for profit. Exelon is seeking a new 50-year license to operate the dam, but under federal law it needs the State of Maryland to certify that the dam operations will meet state water quality standards. Maryland issued its Water Quality Certification on April 27 and Exelon sued the State on May 25 in federal district court, challenging the state’s authority to require any pollution reduction from upstream sources. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper filed to intervene in this case, supporting the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

“The aftermath of last week’s dam release underscores why it is so important to address the sediment pollution stored behind Conowingo Dam,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “By suing the State, Exelon is seeking to disarm Maryland of one of its key tools to protect water quality in the relicensing process. While we feel that Maryland’s certification is missing some key elements, we absolutely support states’ authority to protect water quality and require power companies to reduce pollution from the operation of their dams.”

Since its construction in 1928, Conowingo Dam has trapped polluted sediment from the Susquehanna River and its 27,000-square-mile drainage area. Scientists have concluded that the dam’s reservoir is now at capacity and studies estimate that there are nearly 200 million tons of sediment, nutrients and other pollutants trapped behind the dam. During major floods caused by large storms, powerful floodwaters can scoop out or “scour” the stored sediment behind the dam and send that downstream to the Chesapeake Bay in the form of pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper called on other environmental organizations to intervene in the lawsuit to support the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

“This is our only opportunity in the next 50 years to get meaningful pollution reductions at Conowingo Dam – we have to hold Exelon accountable for its fair share of the cleanup,” said Nicholas.

MEDIA CONTACT: Betsy Nicholas, 202-423-0504, Betsy(at)waterkeeperschesapeake.org

DOWLOAD PRESS RELEASE

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Waterkeepers Chesapeake is a coalition of nineteen independent programs working to make the waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable and fishable. www.waterkeeperschesapeake.org

The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is a non-profit watershed association that advocates for safe drinking water, sustainable use of natural resources, and the ability to fish and swim in the Susquehanna River and her tributaries

On July 20, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, filed a motion to intervene in a federal court action regarding the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam. The dam is owned and operated by Exelon Generation Company, LLC and its current license expired in 2014. Exelon is seeking a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the State of Maryland must issue a Water Quality Certification, certifying that the project will meet state water quality standards before FERC can grant a new license.

The State of Maryland issued its Water Quality Certification on April 27 and Exelon sued the State on May 25 in federal district court, challenging the state’s authority to require any pollution reduction from upstream sources. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper filed to intervene in this case, supporting the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

“The Water Quality Certification for Conowingo Dam is critical for not only the Susquehanna River, but for the entire Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Exelon is seeking to disarm the State of one of its key tools to protect water quality in this relicensing process. While we feel that Maryland’s certification is missing some key elements, we absolutely support states’ authority to protect water quality and require power companies to reduce pollution from the operation of their dams. In its lawsuit, Exelon is essentially seeking to dodge the Clean Water Act and shirk its responsibility for the pollution associated with its dam. Someone is going to have to pay to cleanup that pollution, and if it’s not Exelon it will be Maryland taxpayers. And we’re talking about a 50-year permit – if we don’t get this right, we’ll be paying for a generation.”

For more information, please contact Betsy Nicholas at betsy(at)waterkeeperschesapeake.org or 202-423-0504

Court filings:

Motion to Intervene

Memo in support of intervention