Landowners and interstate pipelines actually agreed on somethinglast week – neither were particularly thrilled with some of theinitiatives proposed by FERC for carving out a greater role forlandowners in the certificate process. But the reasons for theirdissatisfaction were completely opposite.
In commenting on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR)dealing with landowner issues, landowners argued that theCommission was so wrapped up with “details” in the NOPR that itmissed the crux of the landowner-pipeline problem, which theybelieve could be partly remedied if FERC were to require pipes tonotify potentially affected landowners of new greenfield projects”prior” to filing applications at FERC and to engage incollaboration from the outset. They contend the Commission’s NOPR,which was issued in late April, falls far short on this score. Itproposes that pipelines alert landowners about new Section 7(c)projects by certified mail within three business days “after”filing their applications at FERC [RM98-18].
“The pipeline industry seems more willing to quarrel about thedetails of how to deal with landowners than to face the heart ofthe problem. Should landowners be involved sooner rather thanlater?…Should the letters [to landowners] go out the day before,the day of, or the day after the filing of an application with theCommission? Should the letters include the FERC docket number?Should letters be sent certified mail, or is first class goodenough? Details and more details. So what?” said Anne Marie Mueserof the GASP Coalition, which represents landowner interests, incomments submitted to FERC last Monday. “Sending a letter to[landowners] is a nice touch, but it does not cure what is wrongwith the process.”
Although citing its appreciation for FERC’s efforts, GASP saidthe notification process outlined in the NOPR would not create a”level playing field” and would be “insufficient to resolveproblems” between landowners and pipelines. It further accused theCommission of being “unable or unwilling to control abuses” ofpipelines towards landowners, and said that pipelines’ use ofeminent domain to take landowners’ property was “unconstitutionalas well as unconscionable.”
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), incontrast, supported the three-day, post-filing notificationrequirement for Section 7(c) projects, saying it “strikes anappropriate balance” between the needs of affected landowners andthe needs of the pipelines for timely Commission review of theirproject filings.
But INGAA and individual pipelines said they would oppose anysort of mandate requiring formal pre-filing notification oflandowners, such as through pipeline-landowner meetings, to givethem a greater role in the project siting process. Most pipelinesalready voluntarily hold such meetings with landowners, and findthem to be “beneficial” for working out problems associated withtheir projects, Great Lakes Gas Transmission L.P. told FERC. Butmandating such “pre-filing meetings where [a] pipeline either lackssufficient details about a project’s route or even its size is morelikely to create issues than to resolve them…The timing andbreadth of those meetings should not be dictated by theCommission.” The Process Gas Consumers Group (PGC), a group ofindustrial gas users, agreed, saying the meetings “should be leftto the discretion of the pipeline.”
Pipelines also took issue with a NOPR initiative requiring themto give landowners at least 30 days notice prior to startingconstruction on replacement facilities or under their blanketcertificate. Although they favor landowner notification forcase-specific certificate applications, INGAA and others insistsuch a requirement shouldn’t be imposed on unplanned replacementprojects (i.e. plugging a leak, equipment failure or corrosion)because often these projects can’t wait 30 days to be addressed.
INGAA called FERC’s 30-day notification proposal forblanket-certificate projects unessential. “If a pipeline is goingto perform new construction under its blanket certificate, thepipeline must already have or have obtained the necessaryright-of-way, and in the normal course of business would notify theresident prior to entering the property.” Specifically, it askedFERC to eliminate altogether the proposed prior notice period forunplanned maintenance and replacement projects, and to reduce thenotice period from 30 days to three days (or a time period providedfor in an easement agreement) for planned pipeline work.
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