NYS Lawmakers To FERC: Halt AIM Pipeline Until Study Is Completed

Apr 25, 2016

More than three dozen New York state lawmakers have signed a letter sent to a federal energy regulator. They want construction halted on a pipeline project until an independent safety risk analysis is completed.

The appeal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission came in a letter sent April 22, Earth Day. The letter is signed by 38 state senators and assemblymembers. Democratic Assemblywoman Sandy Galef has voiced concern about Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market, or AIM, project for some time and takes the lead on the assembly side. Galef, whose district includes the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, says a number of lawmakers who signed the letter represent portions of New York City.

“Most of the legislators were somewhat in the 50-mile radius, I would say, of Indian Point,” says Galef. “Obviously, New York City legislators really care about this issue because this is a pipeline that is going through some of the land that Indian Point is on as well as alongside the plant. And we just want to be sure that an independent safety study has been conducted before FERC continues with their action of allowing this pipeline to exist.”

A FERC spokeswoman did not return a request for comment in time for this broadcast. 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. A Spectra spokesperson did not respond in time for broadcast. Previously, Spectra Spokeswoman Marylee Hanley has made the point a few times that Spectra has been operating the Algonquin system safely in the region for more than 60 years.

The lawmakers’ letter comes in support of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s February 29 directive to have an independent safety analysis to determine if the pipeline poses a risk to Indian Point. As Galef pointed out, the lawmakers signing represent districts within or very close to the 50-mile radius of the Buchanan-based nuclear power plant. The letter asks FERC to reverse its March 25 rejection of Cuomo’s request to stop construction until the study is completed. Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat, says he signed onto the letter for a number of reasons.

“One, the very fact that it’s going near a nuclear facility, that raises questions,” says Avella. “Plus the fact is that these normal gas pipelines, first of all, we stopped hydrofracking here in New York state, why should we be taking now these pipelines from other states and mainly from Pennsylvania.”

Avella also is concerned about the health and environmental risks from compressor stations. Spectra’s plans included expanding compressor stations, including one in Rockland and another in Putnam. Plus, says Avella:

“It’s just inappropriate to have these pipelines going through our state. It’s too dangerous,” says Avella. “And, in this case, we need to stop it because of the fact of its proximity to Indian Point.”

Meanwhile, Indian Point takes no position on the pipeline, and officials there worked with Spectra to enhance protective measures, such as increasing the pipe’s thickness and burying the pipe deeper. Indian Point parent Entergy had commissioned an independent analysis of impacts that could result from pipeline failure and the analysis determined there were no increased risks. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted an analysis and reached the same conclusion. If FERC were to deny the lawmakers’ request, Avella does not want to just walk away.

“Well, I think we have to fight it and I think it’s incumbent upon the state, if we have to, to sue the federal government,” Avella says. “We shouldn’t take this lying down.”

Galef notes construction is under way in her district.

“Trees have come down, holes have been developed, pipe is put alongside the open areas but there is no gas going through so it is not done. It’s not complete,” says Galef. “And there’s no reason that it can’t be stopped by FERC.”

And she says the letter is an effort to ensure the following:

“We’re in this together,” Galef says. “We want to be sure that if a pipeline and a nuclear plant are sited side by side that this is safe.”

The letter comes in the wake of developments with two other major pipeline projects. On April 22, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation denied a water quality permit for the Constitution Pipeline, a 124-mile project proposed from Pennsylvania to eastern New York. The permit is required for the project to proceed though Constitution issued a statement April 25 taking issue with the DEC’s findings and vowing to pursue the project.

Another pipeline project has been scrapped after Kinder Morgan announced April 20 it was ditching plans to build its $3.3 billion Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline from New York into New England. Kinder Morgan cited a lack of contracts with gas distribution companies as one of the reasons.