Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has introduced legislation that would extend the time that the secretary of the Department of Commerce has to review appeals of states' objections to projects, such as pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, under their costal management programs.

The measure (S 1579), which is co-sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Carl Levin (D-MI), would require the Commerce secretary to close the decision record on an appeal of a state's ruling by no later than 270 days after a notice of the appeal has been published in the Federal Register, although the secretary may stay the closing of the decision record for a time mutually agreed upon by both the appellant and state agency.

The bipartisan bill requires the secretary to issue a decision not later than 90 days after the decision record has been closed and a notice has been published in the Federal Register. If the secretary states he cannot issue a decision at that time, he has an additional 45 days to come out with a ruling.

The measure would amend the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), and is a "concern" of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) because it could ensnarl gas pipeline projects in the appeals process at the Commerce Department, said INGAA President Donald Santa.

Current regulations, which were issued following passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), require the Commerce secretary to close the decision record on an appeal by no later than 160 days after publishing a notice of the appeal, although the secretary has the option to stay the closing of the decision record for a maximum of 60 days. The rules require the secretary to issue a decision within 60-75 days after a decision is closed.

Two notable gas pipeline projects -- Millennium Pipeline and Islander East Pipeline -- have been caught up in the Commerce appeals process. In December 2003, then-Commerce Secretary Donald Evans upheld New York state's objection to Millennium's proposal to build a pipeline from Lake Erie to New York City (see Daily GPI, Dec. 17, 2003).

The secretary's ruling stemmed from an appeal filed by Millennium of New York's efforts to block the natural gas pipeline under the CZMA. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a certificate for the project in September 2002, but New York stalled Millennium because it claimed that adverse effects along portions of the planned route were inconsistent with the state's coastal management program. Millennium had asked Commerce to override the state's objection.

The project floundered for several years until it was revised. In December 2006, FERC issued a certificate for the Northeast Project -- also known as the reconfigured Millennium Pipeline project -- that would deliver as much as 300,000 Dth/d of natural gas from Canada and other areas to gas-hungry markets in New York City and the surrounding region (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2006). Construction on the project, after years of being held up, is expected to begin sometime this summer.

The news was a bit better for the Islander East pipeline project. Commerce overruled the CZMA consistency determination by the state of Connecticut, removing a major roadblock to the 50-mile pipeline (see Daily GPI, May 7, 2004). FERC awarded a final certificate to Islander East in September 2002, but it had been blocked by Connecticut, which ruled that the project would be detrimental to its coastal zone resources.

Despite the favorable Commerce ruling, the Islander East project still has not been built. Islander East, which is sponsored by KeySpan and Spectra Energy, has been tied up in the courts over Connecticut's denial of a water quality permit (see Daily GPI, March 28).

The Islander East pipeline, if built, would extend from a connection with Algonquin Gas Transmission in New Haven, CT, across Long Island Sound to Suffolk County (Long Island) near Yaphank, NY, ultimately delivering up to 400,000 Dth/d.

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