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FERC Issues Flurry of Natural Gas Orders on Powelson's Final Day

In a flurry of activity on Robert Powelson's final day, FERC on Friday issued several orders on natural gas pipeline projects, with most denying requests for rehearings. And in a possible sign of things to come, two commissioners dissented on several of the votes.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied a rehearing request from Sabal Trail Pipeline and two related pipeline expansions, saying it had already complied with directives of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [CP14-554, CP15-16, CP15-17].

Last year, the court found that FERC had failed to adequately analyze downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would result from the Southeast Market Pipelines project, which includes Sabal Trail, the Florida Southeast Connection pipeline and the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC Hillabee Expansion.

Commissioners Richard Glick and Cheryl LaFleur dissented, arguing as they have in several recent cases that FERC needs to go further in its evaluation of project impacts on downstream GHG emissions and the social cost of carbon.

Commissioners denied a request for a rehearing of its authorization for Dominion Energy Cove Point LNG LP to build its Eastern Market Access Project, a $147.3 million project in Maryland and Virginia that would provide 294,000 Dth/d of firm transport capacity to two electric utilities [CP17-15]. Again, LaFleur and Glick dissented.

FERC also rejected requests for rehearing of its decision in January for construction of the PennEast pipeline system, which would move more than 1 Bcf/d from northeastern Pennsylvania to New Jersey. About one-third of the 120-mile pipeline would be in New Jersey [CP15-558]. As he had in FERC's original decision in the case, Glick dissented, and LaFleur concurred with the majority in part and dissented in part.

FERC on Friday also ordered all construction on Atlantic Coast Pipeline to stop after an appeals court vacated a right-of-way issued by the National Park Service authorizing the pipeline to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Commission approved Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC’s plan to temporarily stabilize parts of its route during an indefinite work stoppage required after an appeals court vacated key federal authorizations.

And commissioners authorized Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC to construct and operate the Rivervale South to Market project, a 190,000 Dth/d expansion of its system in New Jersey [CP17-490].

Friday was Powelson's final day at FERC before moving on to become president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies. Powelson was one of three Republicans at FERC, along with Chairman Kevin McIntyre and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee. Glick and LaFleur are Democrats.

Powelson's departure has sparked concern that some projects could be delayed or blocked by 2-2 votes cutting along party lines. In recent months, the Commission has frequently split votes on pipeline certificates, with three Republicans on one side of issues and two Democrats on the other. Without Powelson, and without a replacement in sight, there is the threat of tie votes, and/or the chairman could choose not to put major projects on the docket at all.

Bernard McNamee, executive director of the Department of Energy's Office of Policy, is rumored to be the Trump administration's likely nominee to replace Powelson, though there's been no official word from the White House.

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