South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Upstate Forever appeals natural gas pipeline decision
March 8th, 2017

By Tesalon Felicien

A ruling by the Federal Environment Regulatory Commission approving a 55-mile natural-gas pipeline across the Upstate to the Lowcountry has been challenged by an Upstate environmental group.

Upstate Forever, an environmental advocacy group, challenged FERC's Certificate Order to Dominion Carolina Gas Transmission, filing a request for rehearing and motion for stay, in an attempt to halt the pipeline.

The document filed by S.C. Environmental Law Project, requests a rehearing of the Feb 2. approval and contends that FERC expedited its approval process, denying Upstate Forever due process. Upstate Forever requested that the certificate in addition to the environmental assessment be withdrawn in hopes that FERC will do a new study in compliance with regulatory standards (National Environment Policy and the Natural Gas Act).

Kristen Beckham, spokesperson for Dominion, said the company is confident FERC's decision will stand.

"We are confident that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in due time, will deny rehearing and again reject the arguments made by Upstate Forever," Beckham said. "The FERC process included a comprehensive 19-month review of the project proposal including construction and operational impacts, potential environmental impacts, engineering, route alternatives and the project’s safety. Additionally, the public had an opportunity to comment at open houses, FERC scoping meetings and on the FERC docket as part of the project review process."

Dominion plans to file a notice to proceed with the construction and if approved will begin this spring. The company is also confident it can come to an agreement with landowners, according to Beckham.

FERC declined comment saying it will address the arguments raised in the petitions in a future hearing, said Tamara Young-Allen, FERC spokeswoman.

Upstate Forever's appeal alone does not stop the pipeline's construction, according to Michael Corley, attorney at SCELP who filed the appeal. Corley said FERC's decision may have been rushed due to the resignation of Chairman Norman Bay, who stepped down on Feb. 3. The resignation left FERC unable to issue decisions until a new commissioner is appointed.

"The issues that we raised and our request for rehearing were significant enough that the pipeline shouldn't be allowed to be built until those are resolved," Corley said. "Part of the basis of our challenge is that the decision was rushed through and there have been other people who have alleged the same thing. I was disappointed and I felt like I don't think this decision would have been made Feb 2. if not for the fact that the agency was about to lose their ability to issue approvals. It was unfortunate that the decision was rushed to help with the pipeline company's timeline whereas the concerns of Upstate Forever and the concerns of citizens were largely ignored. The job of the agency is to balance the public and business interest but I don't think that balance happened given the way this decision was made."

The "Transco to Charleston Project" will be a mostly underground pipe from Moore in Spartanburg County to Greenwood County. The facility will include associated support facilities above-ground. The project also includes a 50-foot easement along its length, establishing permanent restrictions on what property owners.

Among other concerns, the appeal states Dominion did not submit substantial information related to environmental consequences of the project to the public. FERC also failed to consider alternative alignments to the proposed pipeline.

Upstate Forever will continue to fight the pipeline's construction, said project manager Shelley Robbins.

"We stated our position clearly. There's a real question as to whether or not the project is needed in the first place and we don't think FERC examined that carefully enough," Robbins said.

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