New York denies critical permit for natural gas pipeline

Associated Press
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline project in 2014.
  • That approval was contingent on a state permit.
  • Companies can appeal the state decision.

New York environmental regulators have rejected a critical permit needed for a major natural gas pipeline project, saying the project fails to meet standards that protect hundreds of streams, wetlands and other water resources in its path.

A man carries a sign before a rally opposing the Constitution Pipeline outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. Opponents of the 124-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to eastern New York want the Cuomo administration to deny a water quality permit for the project. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval of the project in 2014 was contingent on the state permit. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

The Department of Environmental Conservation said Friday it won't issue a water quality permit for the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline from Pennsylvania's shale gas fields to eastern New York. The agency said the project's construction would affect 251 streams and 500 acres of valuable forest as well as extensive wetlands.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the pipeline project in 2014 contingent on the state permit, which is required by the federal Clean Water Act. The project had all needed permits for a segment in Pennsylvania and had already cleared trees there in preparation for construction.

Constitution Pipeline Company, a partnership formed by Cabot Oil & Gas,Williams Partners and Piedmont Natural Gas Company, can appeal the state decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We are very disappointed by today's decision," Constitution spokesman Christopher Stockton said. "We remain absolutely committed to building this important energy infrastructure project."

Stockton said the partners will decide whether to appeal after they finish analyzing the state's rationale for the denial.

The decision comes two days after Kinder Morgan Inc. announced it was mothballing its planned Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which would have followed some of the same route as Constitution. Kinder Morgan, which was earlier in the FERC process, cited economic reasons for its decision.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in 2014, environmentalists turned their efforts to defeating pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects. They and community groups pressed Cuomo to decline the state permit for the Constitution Pipeline.

"Cuomo's leadership could inspire a domino effect of related pipeline rejections as other states begin to put the protection of water and our climate before flawed energy projects that do not serve the public interest," said Roger Downs of the Sierra Club's Atlantic Chapter.

But some local officials, labor groups and business interests argue the pipeline is essential since New York has been increasing its natural gas consumption.

"We are incredibly disappointed that the administration allowed fear-mongering to once again lead the way," said Heather Briccetti, president of The Business Council of New York State. She said the decision "will have a direct and immediate negative impact on our state's economy."

The Department of Environmental Conservation said that in addition to its review of Constitution's application and supporting materials, the agency also considered more than 15,000 public comments before reaching its decision.