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Connecticut Heating Oil Group Sues Over NatGas Expansion

The Connecticut Energy Marketers Association (CEMA), which represents heating oil and gasoline dealers, filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) on Friday, accusing regulators of failing to assess environmental impacts from a plan to expand natural gas infrastructure in Connecticut.

In a 24-page complaint filed in the Hartford District of the state's Superior Court, CEMA said DEEP and its Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) were required, under the state's Environmental Policy Act, to conduct an environmental impact evaluation (EIE) of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES) Gov. Dannel Malloy signed into law last year (see Daily GPI, July 11, 2013; June 18, 2013).

CEMA said Connecticut's natural gas distribution lines leak methane and interfere with the state's goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Despite significant identified environmental impacts arising from the anticipated increase in [natural gas] service to 300,000 new customers, and adding 900 miles of gas mains...DEEP failed to evaluate the environmental impacts of the expansion plan and the specific series of steps proposed by DEEP to implement it," CEMA said.

"DEEP did not make any written determination of environmental significance...Had it performed the required assessment, the evidence indicates that DEEP would have concluded that the sequence of planned activities it proposed for implementation is more likely than not to have a significant adverse effect on the environment."

CEMA President Chris Herb on Friday said the CES "is like running a natural gas pipeline from Hartford, CT, to Chattanooga, TN, without one environmental impact study.

"The approval of the [CES], is already anywhere from a year to a year-and-a-half ahead of most processes in the past that have allowed these projects to go forward. It's already been expedited. Unfortunately, in doing that they're shirking their responsibility to follow the law, which is to have an EIE. That is absolutely, categorically wrong, and we believe that the courts will agree with us."

According to reports, DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain called CEMA's lawsuit "groundless and based on inaccurate information.

"The type of environmental reviews cited by the oil dealers are not required for the natural gas expansion," Schain said. "The lawsuit is simply another in a series of steps by the heating oil dealers aimed at protecting their lock on the market and preventing Connecticut homeowners and businesses from having a choice to select a cheaper and cleaner fuel."

Schain added that were being undertaken by Connecticut's three major gas utilities -- Yankee Gas Services Co., Connecticut Natural Gas Corp. (CNGC) and Southern Connecticut Gas Co. -- not DEEP. An EIE would only be appropriate if regulators were at the helm.

"We simply outlined a plan to provide consumers with a choice to use natural gas," Schain said. "We do not see any basis for CEMA's claim."

Yankee, a Northeast Utilities subsidiary, broke ground on its Wilton Gas Expansion Project in August (see Daily GPI, Aug. 6). The project calls for building a new 3.5-mile, 8-inch diameter pipeline through the Town of Wilton; converting 10,000 low-use customers to gas heating; and adding 41,296 "on-main" and 31,125 "off-main" customers by 2023.

On-main customers are those that have gas service available on their street but have not yet connected, while off-main are those interested in gas service but are not close enough to existing infrastructure to connect. Collectively, expansions by Yankee, CNGC and Southern are expected to add 280,000 new gas customers over the next 10 years.

According to PURA, CNGC and Southern -- both units of UIL Holdings Corp. -- have proposed converting 29,500 low-use, non-heating customers to heating by 2023. The two utilities would also add 113,700 on-main customers, plus 54,000 off-main customers, by that time.

The case is Connecticut Energy Marketers Association v. Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection et al [HHD-CV14-6054538].

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