Monthly Archives: September 2017

FERC Commissioners

In August of 2017 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission returned to an adequate number of Commissioners to act on pipeline proposals. FERC is widely expected to soon approve the 120 mile long PennEast pipeline from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey. Property owners who refused negotiations may soon be faced with condemnation of pipeline easements.

PennEast pipeline set for FERC approval after Senate confirms new commissioners

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is likely to issue its final approval to the controversial PennEast Pipeline project through Pennsylvania and New Jersey now that it has a quorum of commissioners for the first time since February, observers said on Friday.

The top federal regulator of interstate pipelines is expected to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to the project this summer, allowing it to use eminent domain to take land for construction from landowners who have refused its offers of compensation.

FERC has a quorum now that the U.S. Senate approved two of President Trump’s nominations Thursday. Robert Powelson, a member of Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, and Neil Chatterjee, an energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will serve on the panel.

Their confirmation is expected to allow FERC to resume its reviews of permit applications for PennEast and other pipelines. The commission almost always approves such proposals, leading the agency’s critics to call it a “rubber stamp” for the fossil fuel industry.

“We have no reason to believe that their approval of pipelines will be any different now than it has been under previous quorums,” said Kathryn Urbanowicz, a staff attorney with the environmental group Clean Air Council in Philadelphia, which opposes PennEast.

She said FERC may issue the certificate soon, since that action usually quickly follows the agency’s final environmental impact statement, which it issued to PennEast in April, saying the project would have “less than significant” environmental impact.

Mary O’Driscoll, a spokeswoman for FERC, said she didn’t know when the commission would consider the PennEast application. She declined to respond to renewed claims that FERC is historically biased toward the fossil fuel industry.

The PennEast Pipeline company, which has said it expects to receive the certificate this summer, welcomed the Senate’s approval of the new commissioners.

“We are heartened to finally see Senate action on restoring a quorum to FERC to now consider important infrastructure projects across the country, including final approval of the PennEast Pipeline Project,” said Dat Tran, chairman of the PennEast board, in a statement. “We are confident in our application to deliver clean-burning, low-cost American energy to families and businesses throughout the region for decades to come.”

The Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance, a trade group that lobbied for the FERC confirmations, also welcomed the Senate’s approval, and urged the commission to immediately begin consideration of applications such as PennEast’s.

“This is a win for workers across the energy supply chain, and every American that benefits from access to affordable energy,” said Toby Mack, President of EEIA, in a statement. “This is a step in the right direction to creating jobs, growing our economy and making America stronger.”

If finally approved by FERC and other state and federal regulators, PennEast will carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Luzerne County, Pa. about 120 miles to Mercer County, N.J. The project has encountered strong resistance from communities along the route, and from environmental groups who say it is an unnecessary pipeline that will fragment forests, threaten waterways and encourage the production of climate-warming fossil fuels.

Even with the expected FERC approval, the pipeline requires more permits from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate regulator which plans to hold public hearings on the project but has yet to schedule them, said Clarke Rupert, a spokesman for DRBC.

In June, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection rejected PennEast’s application for a water-quality permit on the grounds that the company had failed for the second time in two months to submit all the required information. The company said it would reapply.

Critics of PennEast include the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network which unsuccessfully sued FERC in 2016, alleging that the agency’s policy was biased toward the pipeline industry.

DRN’s head, Maya van Rossum, said Friday that whether the pipeline is built is likely to depend on regulators other than FERC. She said FERC has denied only one pipeline project in 30 years. FERC’s O’Driscoll would not confirm or deny that assertion.

“Thankfully, nobody has been counting on FERC to do the right thing and say ‘no’ to PennEast,” van Rossum said. “We always knew it would come down to these other agencies.”

She said FERC’s likely approval won’t deflect opposition. “The community is not going to take this lightly. There is still a lot of fight left and opportunity to defeat this project.”

Lynda Farrell, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based Pipeline Safety Coalition, predicted that FERC will come under renewed pressure from both sides of the PennEast debate now that it has a quorum.

“I’m sure that all pipeline operators are breathing a sigh of relief as pipeline opposition groups are rolling up their sleeves,” she said. “The commission is going to be pressured by operators for fast-tracking.”

Story written by: By Jon Hurdle | StateImpact Pennsylvania
Photo by: Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA
Photo Caption: Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner, protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline, at a FERC ‘listening session’ near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016

By |September 15th, 2017|Categories: Eminent domain, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

Transcourse Energy

The Transcourse Energy plan for a high voltage power line in York County is reported to progress to a final route proposal to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission by November 15, 2017. Owners should consult an experienced eminent domain attorney to protect owner rights on issues such as:

  • Eminent domain power
  • Regulatory approvals
  • Survey requests
  • Precondemnation activities
  • Harm to views
  • Electromagnetic fields
  • Easement terms
  • Proof of harms
  • Methods to value property
  • Just compensation
  • Condemnor payment of fees of owners

Experts: Landowners in path of power line project should know rights

Southern York County landowners who attended an informational meeting Thursday, Aug. 24, said they are prepared for a door knock if or when Transource Energy officials decide to step onto their property.

Hundreds of Hopewell, East Hopewell, Fawn and Lower Chanceford township residents stand to lose a portion of their land to a new above-ground high-voltage power-line project. Three state experts explained to them the rights they have to fight it.

Transource has the power of eminent domain, which means property owners’ land can be seized and used to build public utility infrastructure. And that power could trump any land considered part of preservation or agricultural security areas, experts said.

It is up to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to approve the power-line project.

Property rights: “You have property rights,” Penn State Law staff attorney Sean High said. High researches agricultural law issues for the Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law.

PJM Interconnection, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia, claims that the project will allow existing power to freely flow south from a northern portion of the regional grid to help decrease ratepayers’ electric bills.

Despite their claim, High said, landowners can still play offense.

High encouraged landowners to hire an attorney who can write a binding contract that spells out specific concerns they have regarding eminent domain. For example, he said, if a farmer grows organic vegetables, construction trucks nearby or on their land could ruin the farmer’s business.

The $320 million “market efficiency” project is a first of its kind in Pennsylvania, state acting consumer advocate Tanya McCloskey said. It has an east and west component that affects residents of Franklin and York counties.

The project calls for 135-foot towers and miles of new transmission lines, according to Transource.

Community preparedness: “I feel the community is more prepared for Phase Two of the project,” Kim Carrick said.

Carrick is a member of the Stop Transource in Pennsylvania and Maryland group whose property is not affected by the proposed project. She said it’s her responsibility to support her community, adding she thought the agency experts’ presentations were “very concise.”

The final route for the power line is expected to be submitted to the state utility commission within the next two months, Transource spokeswoman Abby Foster said.

Public hearings: Once it’s submitted, there’s a checklist of items the commission needs to oversee, including hosting public hearings, before a final approval is rendered, McCloskey said.

She urged landowners to be part of the process. She told them to “bring information and present it to the commissioners.”

“Often farmland is viewed as the path of least resistance,” Pennsylvania Bureau of Farmland Preservation Director Doug Wolfgang said.

He said the project and its proposed route amounts to a land-use balancing act. Population projections in central Pennsylvania show a steady increase over the next several years, Wolfgang explained.

He said he strongly believes in farmland preservation, but he said he also knows the state is looking at supply and demand of pending electricity needs. And, rather than creating a route through a residential development, it’s often easier for infrastructure and transportation projects to run through farmland.

Frank Ayd, 44, of East Hopewell Township, said he, too, feels members of Stop Transource are more prepared after the meeting.

He said he and others are not naive, and if surveyors show up, “it can be very destructive,” which means fencing and trees could be removed and soil and livestock could be disturbed.

“Therefore, if contacted, I would never give permission to anyone I don’t know to even walk my property line,” he said.

Written by: Jana Benscoter | YorkDispatch

By |September 13th, 2017|Categories: Condemnation, Electric Transmission, Eminent domain, Property Rights|