The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has again denied the Northern Access expansion project’s water quality certification (WQC) in a move the sponsor said has no bearing on its eventual completion, given action by federal regulators late last year to suspend the state’s authority.
In a letter on Thursday to sponsor National Fuel Gas Co. (NFG), DEC said it reached its decision based on a “thorough evaluation” and “supplemental submissions,” determining that the project failed to meet state water quality standards. After nearly three years of regulatory review, DEC initially rejected the project’s WQC in 2017. The company later challenged the denial in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which earlier this year vacated the decision.
Late last year FERC waived DEC’s regulatory authority, finding that the agency took too long to issue its decision on the WQC. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said DEC violated the one-year statutory timeframe under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to issue or deny the certification.
“We believe that FERC’s orders finding that the New York DEC waived its authority to act on our certification application take precedence and render DEC’s new denial ineffective and void,” NFG spokesperson Karen Merkel told NGI on Friday. “Once DEC’s deadline to act passed, its subsequent actions, such as this new denial, are of no consequence.”
The company still has other hurdles to work through to get Northern Access built. NFG CEO David Bauer said earlier this month during the fiscal third quarter earnings call that the project isn’t likely to come online until 2022 or 2023 given the challenges.
The 100-mile project would expand the Empire and National Fuel systems to move 490 MMcf/d of gas from western Pennsylvania to markets in New York, Canada, the Northeast and the Midwest. NFG is already moving ahead with other projects to fill the void that’s been left by the Northern Access delays.
About 70 miles of the pipeline would be constructed in New York. As it indicated in its first denial, DEC said in its latest notice the project “fails to avoid or adequately mitigate adverse impacts to water quality and associated resources.” In addition, “crossing multiple streams and freshwater wetlands within a watershed or basin, including degrading riparian buffers,” would have a negative cumulative effect on water quality in those areas. If allowed to proceed, the project would materially interfere with or jeopardize the biological integrity and best usages of affected water bodies and wetlands.”
The agency has denied WQCs for several natural gas infrastructure projects, including the Constitution Pipeline, which remains in regulatory limbo. Most recently, the agency rejected the controversial Northeast Supply Enhancement project’s WQC application, inviting sponsor Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC to reapply.
DEC’s latest denial came the same day that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed a proposed rule to replace and modernize existing WQC regulations.