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Tennessee EJ Groups are Suing FERC

Photo credit: John Partipilo

By Franklin Sharon.

On May 1, 2024, Anita Wadhwani of Tennessee Lookout reported that Tennessee environmental groups have filed a suit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over its approval of a pipeline that will wind through mostly poor and Black Middle Tennessee communities. This pipeline will supply methane gas to a new Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) powerplant near Clarksville.

What Are the Groups Asking For?  The Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices are asking the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to set aside a January order approving the 32-mile pipeline through Dickson, Houston and Stewart Counties. Below is a proposed system map of the Kinder Morgan pipeline that runs through these three Tennessee counties.

Represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), these environmental groups say the construction and ultimate operations of the pipeline poses a host of avoidable risks to the communities and natural resources that lie in its path. These groups have criticized federal regulators for caving to pressure from the Tennessee Valley Authority and the company building the pipeline, Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

According to an analysis by FERC, The proposed pipeline’s route goes through eleven (11) communities, seven (7) of which are disproportionately in poor or Black communities and three (3) of which have minority populations of 50% or more. Additionally, the pipeline would cut through dozens of streams that feed into the popular Harpeth River.

Other concerns raised by environmental groups centers on the danger of pipes leaking methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a key contributor to climate warming. The groups also issued a warning, that the costs which TVA is incurring to complete this project will ultimately be borne by consumers in the form of higher energy costs. 

Why is This Pipeline So Controversial?  The pipeline project is intended to supply natural gas to a new TVA plant in Cumberland City, which is approximately 20 miles southwest of Clarksville.  This plant is one of eight gas-powered plants that TVA has announced and is drawing criticism from environmental groups for its continued reliance on climate-damaging fossil fuels instead of investments in renewable energy.

Why Is This Important?  Spencer Gall, SELC attorney, said “FERC’s decision to greenlight this project ignored the harm the pipeline and gas plant would inflict on Middle Tennessee and beyond,”

“FERC is supposed to safeguard the public interest, not rubberstamp unnecessary pipeline projects that will harm our communities, hurt the climate, and contribute to higher power bills”.


Top FERC To-Do List – Gas Pipelines

Now that its quorum has been restored, one of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission‘s top priorities will be breaking the logjam of natural gas pipeline projects needing approval that built up over the six months since the body was last able to perform its duties. 
The U.S. Senate brought FERC back to fighting shape earlier this month with the confirmation of commissioners Republicans Robert Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and Neil Chatterjee, a senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The two men, along with sitting Commissioner and acting Chair Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat, give the five-member agency the three commissioners it needs to decide on any action requiring a vote.
While there’s a lot for the commission to catch up on, from projects to policy and regulatory matters, gas pipeline proposals are likely to be at the top of the list for quick action, said David Wochner, a partner at K&L Gates LLP and the firm’s policy and regulatory practice area leader.
“Pipeline infrastructure in the natural gas space … certainly provides one of the best opportunities for a newly constituted FERC,” Wochner said. “It’s an opportunity to really advance President Trump’s infrastructure initiatives, which obviously he talked about all through the campaign.”
There are five projects that are ready to be reviewed by the commission:
·        The $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a Dominion Energy Inc. project
·        The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline — a joint effort between EQT Midstream Partners LPNextEra Energy Inc. subsidiary NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Consolidated Edison Inc. subsidiary Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Holdings Inc. unit WGL Midstream, and RGC Resources Inc. unit RGC Midstream LLC
·        The $2.2 billion Nexus Pipeline, a DTE Energy Co. and Enbridge Corp. venture
·        The $1.8 billion Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline, a TransCanada Corp. project
·        The $1 billion PennEast Pipeline, a joint effort between Southern Co. Gas subsidiary AGL ResourcesNew Jersey Resources Corp. subsidiary NJR Pipeline Co., PSEG Power LLC, South Jersey Industries Inc. unit SJI Midstream, Enbridge Corp., and UGI Corp. subsidiary UGI Energy Services LLC

All have received their final environmental impact statements from FERC and are waiting for commissioners to decide whether to issue certificates of public convenience and necessity. Those certificates, issued under Section 7 of the federal Natural Gas Act, convey the power of eminent domain to the project owners to use as they construct a pipeline along a right-of-way approved by FERC.

Wochner said he thinks the Nexus and PennEast projects are the best candidates to be handled first, saying they’re both significant infrastructure projects that should be prioritized.
Dena Wiggins, president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association, said there’s no FERC meeting until September, so that would be the earliest any project could be aired in a public meeting. She said the projects could be certified “notationally,” meaning the members can vote on paper — outside of a meeting — and issue a certificate that way. But she added that’s unlikely.
“For big orders, usually staff makes a presentation to the commissioners,” Wiggins said. “Sometimes commissioners will want to make public statements.”
While the pipeline projects have made it through most of the FERC process so far, Kelly Martin, deputy director for the Sierra Club‘s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said that won’t be the end of the story.
“There is major pushback from communities around use of eminent domain, especially in Virginia and in West Virginia,” Martin said. “There are landowners that don’t want their land taken through the use of eminent domain when there’s no public good in the state where they are, or any need.”
In fact, both the Mountain Valley and Nexus pipelines are the subject of new lawsuits, both targeting FERC’s authority to grant eminent domain powers to pipeline companies.
Ohio residents are suing FERC and Nexus Gas Transmission LLC, the company created by DTE and Enbridge to develop the project, alleging the pipeline will primarily export gas, disqualifying it from meeting the “necessity” component of a FERC certificate of approval. The plaintiffs say exporting gas is not a public use for purposes of the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment and is beyond the scope of the Natural Gas Act and FERC jurisdiction in cases involving eminent domain.
Separately, Virginia residents are suing FERC and Mountain Valley LLC, the company created to carry out the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, in another Fifth Amendment takings clause constitutional challenge to the eminent domain provisions of the Natural Gas Act.
Eugene Elrod, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, said the lawsuits show that landowners and other parties are looking for new ways to stop pipeline projects.
“If the lawsuits are successful, they would have far-reaching effects, because all pipelines that get certificates of public convenience and necessity from FERC need to exercise this power of eminent domain to condemn the property over which the pipeline will run,” Elrod said.
Martin said groups like the Sierra Club could also ask FERC to reconsider any authorizations granted on climate change or cumulative impact grounds.
“A major concern for us is the climate impacts of methane, which is released at the drilling site, from the pipelines along the way and then from a power plant, if that’s the end use,” she said.
–Additional reporting by Adam Lidgett, Michael Phillis and Keith Goldberg. Editing by Philip Shea and Katherine Rautenberg.
By Juan Carlos Rodriguez  Law360, New York (August 14, 2017, 8:48 PM EDT) —

Backyard Talk

Grassroots Green Hero: Eva Telesco

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Eva M. Telesco of Lancaster Against Pipelines with her husband Jon and son Pike. The group is fundraising for lawsuits they have filed to stop Atlantic Sunrise Project and raising awareness about the project throughout the affected communities.
Eva M. Telesco of Lancaster Against Pipelines with her husband Jon and son Pike. The group is fundraising for lawsuits they have filed to stop Atlantic Sunrise Project and raising awareness about the project throughout the affected communities.

Interview by Erin Allegro
Eva M. Telesco is a volunteer leader of Lancaster Against Pipelines working against Atlantic Sunrise Project, a proposed fracked-gas pipeline that would be double the size of most such pipelines — 42 inches in diameter and 1200 to 1500 PSI — leading to possible environmental disaster.
Telesco shared a few stories about her group’s work on the frontlines and how CHEJ has been of help to them with intern Erin Allegro recently.
Q: When did you first notice that the community was at risk due to the Atlantic Sunrise Project?
A: My husband and I didn’t learn about the Atlantic Sunrise Project until the fall of 2014. Other people in our community had known since that spring how dangerous it could be and how close it would be to our homes.  When we first heard about it we said to each other “Oh, a pipeline? Aren’t they everywhere? Big deal.” Luckily, other people were more aware of the reality and the risks, and LAP was formed early in 2014 when the project was announced and the first scoping meetings happened.
Q:  What did the county do to notify people of the problems with the pipeline that will carry fracking gas through five counties? What solutions or precautions were advised?
A: A lot of this happened before I had been involved, but in the township where I live, residents organized several town meetings. I learned about the pipeline at a community meeting at the fire hall. There were also a few township wide mailers, all funded by private citizens.
Conestoga residents just sent one out to advertise the walk and keep people up to date with the recent route changes and other news. Most of Lancaster Against Pipeline communication has been through the website, as well as Facebook and emails because we don’t have the money to do huge mailings. Our E-newsletter went out to give residents necessary information.
The township didn’t give us any solutions. The supervisors in our towns and all the neighboring towns generally, have been very unsupportive of our side. Even the fire hall meetings and mailings were initiated by private citizens. The township supervisors did not step up at all, and their stance was that they wanted to remain neutral, but in actuality it’s much more like they are siding with industry rather than residents and neighbors.
Q:  What were some events experienced by community members?
A: In the spring of 2015, two of the affected townships [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Martic and Conestoga], tried  to adopt home rule, a form of government that gives townships and individual voters more flexibility and more voice in the governing process, and would have hopefully allowed voters to pass a Rights Based Ordinance against the pipeline. Especially in the township where I live, the vote ended up being close, but we ended up losing in both townships.
That took a lot of time and energy and a lot of community meetings as well as door to door canvassing and working with voters. After this failed we moved to more of a countywide focus.
We started the Protect PA quilt project shortly after. We worked on getting groups and individuals to make quilt squares. We attended local fairs and car shows with a table with information about the pipeline, as well as supplies to make the quilt squares. Now the quilt is so large we have ten five-by-five panels. In March 2016, when we completed our tenth panel and the quilt reached 50 feet, the same distance as the permanent right-of-way for the proposed pipeline, we held a press conference at a local farm that would be bisected by the pipeline. Last summer a lot of our work was based around this quilt project.
This spring, we were able to do outreach with affected landowners; more than 40 landowners in Lancaster County have not signed contracts with Williams, the pipeline company. We visit with information and little messages of encouragement. Last month, we gave out a small plant as a gift and this month we are giving out information about eminent domain and what it will look like for the affected landowners.
We are just trying to support the landowners and help them stand up to the Williams Company. There are some owners that are a part of our group and some who are resisting, but are not actively engaged with us. They want to be more private about it.
Two weeks ago, Conestoga residents organized a walk against the Pipeline.  About 200 people came out to walk approximately 3.1 miles, starting at a landowners farm, continuing down Main Street and ending at the park. We were really excited about the turnout and there was great energy. We brought in some new people and had new volunteers as well as many more people joining! Last week, at the Lancaster FERC meeting we had a huge turnout.  The newspapers estimated about 300 people came out, mostly in opposition to the pipeline. The meeting was very dramatic and contentious with a lot of people speaking out and adding great comments. The meeting ended with our supporters singing the FERC representatives off the stage.
Q: How has this issue affected you or your family specifically?
A: It has really opened my eyes to all kinds of other environmental issues that I was only a little bit aware of but kind of ignoring until it hit so close to home. It has turned our lives upside down; we are involved in some kind of pipeline activity 3-4 nights a week and we are spending probably 10-15 hours a week on pipeline related work. Our four-year-old son is coming to meetings and rallies with us and it’s absolutely crazy trying to balance activism and our normal lives.
Q: What media coverage and help of outside organizations were you able to secure? How has it changed the response?
A: The Sierra Club has been really supportive. They sent a mass email form letter to all regional Sierra Club members; individuals could submit the letter as is, or modify, during the comment period of the DEIS. The local media has been fairly involved with relatively good coverage. In their effort to remain unbiased the media has represented us well, but has also put in even-handed words on behalf of Williams as well.  
We have also worked with many other groups, like the Clean Air Council and the Delaware River keepers. Locally, the Lancaster Conservancy and the Lancaster Farmland Trust have been very supportive.  They made strong statements at the FERC meeting in Lancaster. Our allies have helped us to get good coverage in the media as well.
Q: What do you want other citizens to know as they move forward in their communities with similar issues with their local environment?
A:It’s very hard work, but it’s worth doing. People have to believe that we can stop pipelines! I think the current climate is starting to change.  More folks are against these projects and we just have to keep fighting until leaders and politicians catch up. Anyone that wants to get connected please reach out! We are happy to offer advice, help others and attend events to help in any way we can.
Learn more about grassroots heroes on the front lines who work with CHEJ by staying up to date on our blogs and signing up for our e-mails here. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]