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Groups challenge FERC approval of Enbridge's Atlantic Bridge gas project

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Groups challenge FERC approval of Enbridge's Atlantic Bridge gas project

Community and environmental groups in New England asked a federal appeals court to step in early to review the approval and construction authorization for Enbridge Inc.'s 132,705-Dth/d Atlantic Bridge natural gas pipeline expansion in New England, before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has decided whether it will take another look at the orders.

The groups argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit must view their petitions to FERC for rehearing of the authorization orders as having been denied by the commission. The commission has actually issued tolling orders that extend the time it has to consider the requests for rehearing, but the groups' attorney said the commission staff does not have authority to do this while the commission lacks enough members to hold votes on such matters. FERC has two commissioners but needs at least three of its five seats filled for a voting quorum. The Trump administration has nominated two new commissioners for confirmation by the Senate.

"The petitioners' two requests for rehearing must be deemed denied by operation of law," wrote lawyer Carolyn Elefant on behalf of the groups in a joint petition for review. "In the absence of a quorum, the commission secretary lacked authority to 'act' on the rehearing requests because staff lacks authority to issue an order that the commission itself cannot issue. In addition, a 'tolling order' does not constitute an 'act' on a request for rehearing under the Natural Gas Act ... (tolling distinct from 'action on' rehearing requests). Because the tolling orders are invalid, the rehearing requests are deemed denied by operation of law and therefore are final for purposes of judicial review."

The court placed the case into the docket May 25. It sent a certified copy of the petition to FERC on May 30.

The petitioners represent New England communities near the project and include the city of Quincy, Mass.; Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station; Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion; Food & Water Watch; Eastern Connecticut Green Action; Keep Yorktown Safe; and West Roxbury Saves Energy. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit docket 17-1139)

FERC approved Atlantic Bridge on Jan. 25. The order granted authorization to Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC and Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline LLC to place new pipeline and compression facilities in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The expansion project will provide additional transportation capacity to move gas north from Algonquin receipt points in New Jersey and New York and will enable Maritimes to provide 106,276 Dth/d of firm transportation service from Massachusetts. The project was estimated to cost $451.8 million. Spectra Energy Partners LP, an Enbridge company, owns Algonquin and the majority of Maritimes. (CP16-9)

Elefant also represents a landowner who has asked the D.C. Circuit's help in making sure a natural gas pipeline connected to the Atlantic Sunrise project of Williams Partners LP's Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC goes around her property. (FERC dockets CP15-138, CP17-212)