Coalition Seeks To Overturn FERC's Approval Of AIM Pipeline

Aug 15, 2016

A coalition of 21 plaintiffs has filed a brief seeking to overturn a federal agency’s approval of a pipeline project in the Northeast. A number of the plaintiffs specifically oppose a portion of the pipeline going through the Hudson Valley.

The plaintiffs filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking to overturn the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s March 2015 approval of Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market, or AIM, project. Construction has been under way for more than a year. The coalition’s brief comes after the denial of a rehearing request. In addition to New York, the coalition includes plaintiffs from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and challenges the AIM pipeline approval on a number of grounds. Nancy Vann, member of one of the coalition’s plaintiffs Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, says the brief addresses a number of points, including a technical one.

“The company that was hired to do the Environmental Impact Statement works for Spectra, the company that’s putting in the pipeline, that owns the pipeline, on other projects,” Vann says “This is a clear conflict of interest.”

The coalition alleges that FERC improperly segmented the Algonquin pipeline expansion by dividing it into three different projects to avoid having to address its full environmental impact. In addition to AIM, Spectra has two other projects — Access Northeast and Atlantic Bridge. A FERC spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Vann, a resident of Reynolds Hills, a community in Cortlandt, continues with allegations of conflict of interest.

“According to the documents that we’ve gotten through FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests, that was not revealed, that this company was doing other work for Spectra,” Vann says. “They are doing the Environmental Impact Statements on the AIM pipeline but then they are also doing the Environmental Impact Statements on the Atlantic Bridge pipeline project, which is the next stage of this one big project, and the Access Northeast project, which is the third stage of this one big project.”

Much of Houston-based Spectra Energy’s AIM pipeline concerns replacing 26-diameter pipeline with 42-inch diameter pipeline. The project starts in Rockland County and moves through Westchester and Putnam Counties before heading into Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Part of the expansion includes a portion of the property of the Buchanan-based Indian Point nuclear power plant, where there already are two lines. Proximity of the AIM pipeline to Indian Point is another of the coalition’s contentions. It’s also a concern of U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who wrote to FERC in early August saying that the Environmental Impact Statement issued by FERC did not sufficiently address many of the local community’s concerns, including the potential impacts of the pipeline’s proximity to Indian Point. Zann, who is fighting her Westchester property being taken by eminent domain for the project, says the coalition also will ask that construction be at least temporarily halted.

“We will be probably going back into court within the next week or so and ask for a stay,” says Vann. “The stay request asks the court to halt the pipeline construction while we’re in court.”

In an emailed statement, a Spectra spokeswoman says the third-party contractor is selected and supervised by FERC. She also says Atlantic Bridge and Access Northeast are separate and independent projects. As for the development of the pipeline near Indian Point, the spokeswoman says Algonquin worked with Indian Point parent Entergy to determine an agreed-upon location for the pipeline and concurred that the pipeline would be designed and constructed with additional safety measures, beyond federal law requirements. Entergy had commissioned an independent analysis of impacts that could result from pipeline failure, which determined there were no increased risks. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted an analysis and reached the same conclusion.

Schumer and Gillibrand, in their letter to FERC, also say that in light of continued public opposition to the project, they are requesting that FERC suspend construction and commission an independent review of the potential health, safety and environmental impacts. Other plaintiffs include Riverkeeper and Sierra Club Lower Hudson. Spectra anticipates completing the AIM pipeline by November.