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Court upholds FERC decision approving Algonquin gas pipeline project

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Court upholds FERC decision approving Algonquin gas pipeline project

A federal appeals court rejected the arguments of challengers to the federal regulatory approval of the Algonquin Incremental Market gas pipeline project, concluding that the regulator's environmental assessment was appropriate and that the line does not pose a safety risk.

Challengers to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's 2015 final environmental impact statement and project certificate argued that FERC should have done more to consider Algonquin Incremental Market, or AIM, in the context of operator Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC's other planned projects to bring gas to Northeast markets and that the commission was wrong to conclude that the pipeline would not be a threat to a nearby nuclear facility.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, however, determined that FERC gave sufficient weight to other projects and to nuclear safety considerations and dismissed the case brought by the town of Dedham, Mass., and Riverkeeper Inc.

Specifically, the appellants argued that AIM's environmental impact statement should also have fully included Algonquin's Atlantic Bridge to add gas pipeline capacity in New Jersey and New York, and the Access Northeast Project to provide additional gas to power plants in New England.

The commission and the appellate court both maintained that there was not enough overlap in the timing of the three projects for them to need to be considered under a single environmental impact statement. FERC gave AIM its project certificate in March 2015, but Algonquin did not submit its application for Atlantic Bridge until later that year, and the company still has not filed its formal application for Access Northeast.

The three projects had separate open seasons, individual precedent agreements with distinct shippers and different in-service dates, FERC and the court noted. The three projects also were not financially or functionally interdependent, the court added.

Algonquin's 2014 AIM application proposed replacing 29.2 miles of pipeline with larger-diameter pipe, building 8.2 miles of new pipeline and three new meter stations, and modifying various other compressor and meter stations.

There will be future opportunities to consider the collective impacts of the three projects as the other applications go forward, the court said in its decision.

"[L]ater projects can fully account for the cumulative impacts when those effects become better known," the court decision said. "And in fact, the environmental assessment for the Atlantic Bridge project considered the cumulative impacts of the Access Northeast project once the latter project's details were better defined and its anticipated impacts better understood."

The appellants also challenged FERC's conclusion that AIM would not put the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, N.Y., at risk. They argued that FERC was wrong to accept plant operator Entergy Corp. and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's safety findings.

"According to petitioners, the commission's conclusion is unsupported by substantial evidence. We disagree," the court wrote, noting that the line would be located 1,600 feet from power plant structures and 2,370 feet from the main facility's security barrier. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 16-1081)

Algonquin Gas Transmission is a subsidiary of Enbridge Inc. affiliate Spectra Energy Partners LP.