Rep. Watson Coleman to Introduce Legislation Strengthening FERC Oversight of Proposed Pipelines

Posted June 29, 2016

HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP, NJ (June 29, 2016) – Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ D-12) announced today she will introduce legislation to toughen Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversight by requiring it to apply more comprehensive procedures to its review of proposed pipeline applications before granting a certificate of public convenience and necessity.

Watson Coleman made the announcement during a press conference at Baldpate Mountain in Titusville, New Jersey, which is along the route of the proposed PennEast pipeline project. Every New Jersey town along PennEast’s route has formally opposed the PennEast pipeline, as have a bipartisan coalition of federal and state legislators, citizen groups, and conservation leaders, some of whom were in attendance during today’s event.

“The process that FERC uses to approve pipelines is inherently flawed, and genuinely threatens our environment, green spaces and water resources, and public and private lands, doing so without ever proving that these pipelines are necessary,” Watson Coleman said. “The SAFER Pipelines Act would make critical changes to how FERC considers pipeline proposals by creating a comprehensive framework that considers the cumulative impacts of pipelines, and ensures they are truly necessary before approving them. Whether it’s PennEast here in New Jersey, or a proposed pipeline across the country, FERC should only approve applications that are necessary and serve the public good as their first priority.”

The legislation that Watson Coleman will propose aims to strengthen oversight of proposed pipelines like PennEast by requiring FERC to conduct either a full evidentiary hearing or a cumulative review of major energy infrastructure projects that are planned throughout a region to determine if there is need for a project.

“The current FERC system is broken and New Jersey is facing an onslaught of proposed pipelines throughout the state. The improved oversight that will result from Rep. Watson Coleman’s proposed legislation is needed to protect our natural resources and communities from the overbuilding of pipeline infrastructure,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “PennEast is a perfect example of why we need to reform the way FERC conducts business.”

“Proposals like that by PennEast have shed light on problems with the FERC regulatory process. FERC relies on antiquated laws and old energy realities to make present-day decisions. This prompted the New Jersey Assembly to pass the resolution I sponsored that urges Congress to revise laws and FERC rules that give more oversight to states to protect our natural resources and communities. I thank Congresswoman Watson Coleman for moving the issue forward at the federal level,” said Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio, (D-15).

“Hopewell Township is grateful to Congresswoman Watson Coleman for taking action to reform FERC, an agency that does not adequately protect the residents in our communities and state,” said Kevin Kuchinski, Hopewell Township mayor. “In Hopewell Township, most of our drinking water is from wells that are at risk from the proposed PennEast pipeline, and 1 out of 8 residents would live in the blast zone.”

The new legislation would mandate that, before granting a certificate for a proposed pipeline project, FERC consider:

  • An analysis of demonstrated regional need for additional gas,
  • the inefficient use of existing pipelines and underutilized pipelines,
  • the effect of proposed pipelines on the customers of existing pipelines,
  • a proposed pipeline’s compliance with clean power plans and state and federal renewable energy goals, and
  • a region’s ability to meet any energy deficiencies with economically viable and less environmentally disruptive alternatives to pipelines.

Watson Coleman’s legislation will also require a fuller examination of cumulative regional impacts on the environment from pipelines, and a five-year monitoring program for approved interstate pipelines to ensure that identified environmental impacts are mitigated.

Earlier this month, Watson Coleman also announced her support for a complaint and motion filed with FERC by the Eastern Environmental Law Center (EELC) requesting an evidentiary hearing to assess public need for the PennEast pipeline in light of the self-dealing relationship between the owners of the project and their affiliates that have contracts to receive gas from the pipeline. EELC filed this legal action on behalf of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (SBMWA).

The U.S. Senate heard testimony on June 14 by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) cautioning against overbuilding unnecessary pipelines and calling for FERC to take a closer look at market need. “Retail energy customers would benefit from policy refinements whereby FERC undertakes a more robust and detailed assessment of the extent and duration of market need for new interstate pipeline capacity by refining its longstanding pipeline permitting policy — which largely relies on the mere existence of transportation service contracts as sufficient evidence of market need,” testified N. Jonathan Peress, Director of Air Policy for EDF.

Last month, a resolution sponsored by New Jersey Assembly Members Elizabeth Maher Muoio (D-15), Reed Gusciora (D-15) and Daniel Benson (D-14) was passed by the Assembly urging the president and Congress to change laws and FERC to revise the rules concerning interstate pipeline approvals in order to more fully assess need and address adverse impacts.

“There is no demonstrated market demand for the PennEast pipeline. There is overwhelming opposition to this unnecessary pipeline that would put important environmental resources like our drinking water at risk and pose a threat to the health and safety of communities,” said Jim Waltman, executive director, SBMWA. “Investments in renewable energy sources that are clean and safe, rather than more infrastructure for fossil fuels, are the best path forward.”

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