Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are calling on FERC to rescind its authorization last week for Spectra Energy affiliates Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC and Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline LLC to construct and operate the Atlantic Bridge Project.
"We are very troubled by the combination of FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] approving a pipeline project in New England -- the Atlantic Bridge Project -- coupled with former Chairman Norman Bay's subsequent announcement that he will resign from FERC on Feb. 3, 2017, which willl eave FERC without the quorum needed to be able to hear challenges of this pipeline approval," the pair said in a Feb. 1 letter to FERC Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur.
Atlantic Bridge, estimated to cost about $450 million, would add 132,705 Dth/d of capacity on the Algonquin and Maritimes pipeline systems. Designed to flow south-to-north, the project's available firm transportation capacity is fully subscribed through precedent agreements with five local distribution companies, two manufacturing companies and a municipal utility [CP16-9].
Algonquin has proposed adding a 7,700 hp compressor station in Norfolk County, MA; roughly 6.3 miles of 42-inch diameter pipe to replace existing 26-inch pipe in Westchester County, NY, and Fairfield County, CT; and a metering and regulating (M&R) station in New London County, CT. Algonquin has also proposed expanding three existing compressor stations in New York and Connecticut to add another 31,950 hp, along with various other modifications to existing equipment, according to FERC.
Last Thursday, President Trump named LaFleur acting chairman of FERC, replacing Bay, who then submitted his resignation, effective Feb. 3. Bay's exit would reduce the number of commissioners at the agency to two. Two out of five does not a quorum make, and without it LaFleur and Commissioner Colette Honorable can conduct routine business, but cannot vote on important projects or rules.
"While FERC has delegated its senior staff the ability to complete a number of functions in the absence of a quorum under a 1993 order, this does not appear to apply to contested proceedings, as would be the case for a rehearing request for the Atlantic Bridge pipeline project by opponents," the senators said in their letter. "Therefore, the absence of a quorum at FERC could prevent opponents from challenging FERC's approval of the Atlantic Bridge project for as long as the vacancies persist.
Based on recent history -- the ostensibly five-member FERC has had only three members for the past five months, and one seat has been vacant since Philip Moeller resigned in October 2015 -- Markey and Warren worry that a quorum might not be achieved for some time. "The American people deserve to be assured that FERC will not be hamstrung from hearing appeals of this pipeline approval for an extended period of time," they said.
Maritimes and Algonquin filed for a certificate of convenience and necessity to construct Atlantic Bridge in 2015. FERC issued a favorable environmental assessment for the project last May. Spectra has said it plans to complete Atlantic Bridge by November.