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Northern Access water permits denied; states fight EPA on methane data

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Northern Access water permits denied; states fight EPA on methane data

NY regulator denies water permits for Northern Access gas pipeline

New York denied National Fuel Gas Co. the water permits required to complete a key pipeline project needed to take National Fuel's shale gas production to markets in New England and Canada.

National Fuel said it "received information at 11:22 p.m. on Friday, April 7, 2017, that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ... issued a denial of the Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification and other state stream and wetland permits for the Northern Access project."

"While we are still analyzing the NYS DEC's rationale, the denial is purportedly based upon NYS DEC's determination that ... construction activities will impermissibly affect the quality of waters in the state, notwithstanding voluminous detailed studies prepared and submitted by the companies and our consultants that show any such effects are temporary and minor," National Fuel CEO Ronald Tanski said in a statement.

9 state attorneys general fight EPA's withdrawal of methane data request

The attorneys general of nine states are voicing objections to the U.S. EPA withdrawing a request for more information from the oil and natural gas industry on methane emissions.

They called methane "a particularly powerful agent of climate change" in a letter asking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reissue the Obama-era information collection request, or ICR. "You unilaterally withdrew the final methane ICR on March 2 with no meaningful explanation, let alone a reasoned one," the attorneys general wrote in the April 3 letter.

The EPA made the request in November 2016 to help it form a rule under the Clean Air Act that would limit emissions from existing oil and gas sources. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and his counterparts in Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont said Pruitt withdrew the request without notice or a public comment period.

Virginia wants water quality permits for Mountain Valley, Atlantic Coast pipes

Under pressure from environmental groups, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will require individual Clean Water Act Section 401 certifications for two major natural gas transmission projects: the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

In an April 6 press release, the department said the decision to require the permits, issued by states under the federal Clean Water Act, was consistent with Gov. Terry McAuliffe's commitment to building the pipelines in "the most environmentally protective manner." The Section 401 water quality certifications for each project would be required in addition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' nationwide permit for wetlands and stream crossings. Section 401 certification is required if a project will fill or otherwise affect state waters.

Section 401 permits are common in cases where pipeline projects cross streams and other water bodies, but the permit process has been used by some states, such as New York, to block pipeline projects. McAuliffe, however, has supported Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects.

Clock running out for Congress to repeal recent Obama rules

Time is running out for the GOP-controlled Congress to overturn rules the Obama administration finalized in its last months, but the White House said agencies can act on their own after the deadline to undo regulations.

The Trump administration has rescinded 11 recent Obama-era rules using the Congressional Review Act, or CRA. The law allows Congress to repeal rules finalized during the previous 60 legislative days with backing from a simple majority of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as approval from the president. The CRA also prohibits agencies from creating substantially similar rules to those overturned through the review act.

Oil and gas industry groups have also pushed Congress to rescind a methane emissions rule for production sites on public lands, but the Senate has yet to vote on that measure. President Donald Trump, however, directed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to pull the rule for review as part of a sweeping executive order to reconsider former President Barack Obama's climate policies.

Gas storage operators to pay fees to PHMSA based on working gas, for now

Despite concerns about the methodology, underground gas storage operators should expect to be charged fees in 2017 that are based on gas capacity, not well count, to fund new federal storage oversight.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in November 2016 proposed a 10-tier fee system, with larger operators paying more than smaller ones to cover the costs of the agency's new regulatory program. Operator size would be based on how much working gas capacity a company has. Some commenters during the rulemaking process contended that it would be more appropriate to base the fees on the number of storage facility wells a company has. Much of what is being regulated under the new rules involves inspections and maintenance at wellheads.

Although PHMSA agreed that the well count would be a better way of deciding how much each operator had to pay, the agency said too little is known at the federal level about how many wells each operator has. PHMSA left the door open, however, to using well count in the future.

EPA 'quite a ways behind' on filling appointments, former official says

Two former EPA officials advised state environmental regulators on how to work with the agency amid a lag in appointments and fears of large budget cuts.

President Donald Trump has yet to nominate an EPA deputy administrator or appoint people to fill other key posts at the agency. At the same time, the president has proposed deep cuts to the EPA's budget, including funding for state environmental initiatives.

The leadership vacancies and potential reshuffling of priorities have put state environmental agencies, which often rely on the EPA for regulatory guidance and financial support, on edge.