PA Lawmaker Seeks to Sink Independence Pipe

Seizing upon a deadline ultimatum recently issued by FERC for the proposed Independence Pipeline and associated SupplyLink expansion, Pennsylvania Rep. Frank LaGrotta has called on the Commission to revoke the certificate for the construction of the controversial, multi-state project.

An ardent foe of the project, LaGrotta said his request was based on the "clear and inescapable inability" of the sponsors to meet the deadline for environmental clearances and on what he called a flawed final environmental impact statement (FEIS) by FERC staff.

In a letter to FERC on Nov. 28, the state lawmaker claimed it was "inconceivable that Independence could possibly meet FERC's May 1, 2001 deadline by which you have mandated that the environmental clearances be obtained" for the project.

LaGrotta's bid to revoke the project came on the heels of the Commission staff's move to reject a request by Independence Pipeline Co. and ANR Pipeline to extend the deadline for filing their initial plans on how they intend to comply with the FERC-imposed environmental requirements. It further warned sponsors that Independence and SupplyLink "could be in jeopardy" if the data was filed late (see Daily GPI, Nov. 27).

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) already has issued a "pre-denial" of Independence' request for a 401 environmental clearance, according to LaGrotta. This ruling was based Independence's failure to provide "written concurrence from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the project will not adversely impact federally listed, proposed or candidate species."

Fish and Wildlife can't issue such a finding until the Independence sponsors conduct a study required under the Endangered Species Act, according to LaGrotta. However, the report has not been conducted and as a result of a delay by the sponsors, "the study cannot even be begun until May 15, 2001, pushing back any foreseeable date by which the companies could receive their 401 clearance [from the state] to late fall."

In a Dec. 18 letter to FERC, LaGrotta further underscored what he believes is an "inherent flaw" in the November 1999 FEIS on the pipelines. The FEIS cited a July 1999 letter in which the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks told FERC that it would permit the pipeline to cross two state parks. But it didn't include a letter from the state DEP, which denied new rights-of-way for Independence within these parks based on state legislation, he said.

Given the Commission staff decided not to consider alternative routes to Independence based on this "misunderstanding," LaGrotta believes "FERC's determination [in the FEIS] that Independence is no more environmentally disruptive than alternative transmission systems could be inherently flawed as well."

FERC issued the certificate on the Independence and SupplyLink projects in July. If ever completed, SupplyLink, a 73-mile looping of ANR's existing system, and the 400-mile, 36-inch Independence line would ship to East Coast markets about 1 Bcf/d of natural gas that currently is flowing into the Midwest over Alliance Pipeline and Northern Border Pipeline's extension/expansion.

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