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EPA, National Park Service Object to FERC’s PennEast Pipeline DEIS

The National Park Service (NPS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday detailed their concerns with FERC’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the PennEast Pipeline, with both saying that a significant amount of information is missing from the document that could better help the public understand it.

"EPA has significant concerns regarding the alternatives analysis, a number of important topics for which information is incomplete, and the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the proposed action on the environment and public health, including impacts to terrestrial resources, including interior forests, aquatic resources and rare, threatened and endangered species," the agency wrote of the DEIS, which it rated as EO-2 (environmental objections, insufficient information).

NPS echoed EPA's concerns, primarily as it relates to the pipeline crossing the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail in Eastern Pennsylvania. PennEast has developed a site-specific crossing plan at that location after considering several alternatives. NPS said the plan would still result in significant clearing of public forest land. It's also concerned about the project's cumulative effects on the trail when taken together with other projects that are planned to the cross the trail such as the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

"The draft EIS appears to have been released for public comment prematurely and without the information necessary to complete a meaningful analysis" of the trail crossing," NPS wrote in a letter on Monday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision.

PennEast received a favorable DEIS from FERC in July. The commission acknowledged that “approval of the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts; however, most of these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels” after mitigation measures (see Daily GPIJuly 22)

NPS also charged that some of the information needed for it to thoroughly consider the impacts of a trail crossing is still outstanding, such as more details about route variations and their environmental impacts.

"Expecting federal, state and local agencies, as well as interested parties and the general public to monitor docket filings to stay informed on project information and their environmental impacts, all of which must be added to the information provided in the DEIS in order to understand the impacts of the proposed project, is not reasonable and places an undue burden on everyone concerned with the project," NPS said.

Proposed in 2014, the 119-mile PennEast pipeline would transport 1.11 million Dth/d of Marcellus Shale gas to markets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. PennEast, a joint venture owned by six companies and managed by UGI Energy Services, said after it received the DEIS that it has held more than 250 meetings with landowners, residents and public officials. It added that dozens of route changes were implemented through those conversations, including collocating 37% of the pipeline's route alongside other utility rights-of-way.

The EPA recommended that the DEIS better evaluate potential construction impacts, alternative routes and greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline, among other things. It also said surveys, data collection and other analysis are incomplete. It asked for an opportunity to further discuss its concerns, while the NPS requested consulting party status under the National Historic Preservation Act.

A final decision from FERC on the project is expected next year, according to PennEast. If it's approved, construction on the pipeline is scheduled to begin in 2018.

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