Upstate Forever appeals gas pipeline approval
March 10th, 2017
By Bob Montgomery
An Upstate environmental advocacy group opposed to a 55-mile natural gas pipeline that will run through parts of Spartanburg County has asked a federal commission to reconsider its Feb. 2 approval.
Upstate Forever claims the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “rushed” in approving the $119.3 million Dominion Carolina Gas Transmission project and failed to consider an existing nearby gas pipeline route that could be used instead.
“In a nutshell, we were denied due process,” said Upstate Forever project manager Shelley Robbins. “FERC inappropriately approved the certificate and inappropriately issued a less rigorous environmental assessment rather than a full environmental impact statement — and wrongly issued a finding of no significant impact.”
Dominion spokeswoman Kristen Beckham said the public had sufficient input before the project was approved, and that the route chosen is safe and “confirmed (by FERC) to have the least environmental impact.”
“We are confident that 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.”
Called the “Transco to Charleston Project,” the 55-mile 12-inch underground pipeline is planned to cross hundreds of properties from Moore in Spartanburg County through Laurens and Newberry counties to Greenwood County. It includes a 50-foot easement along its length.
Upstate Forever has opposed the project since it was proposed in March 2016.
“None of this gas is going to the Upstate,” said Michael Corley, an attorney with S.C. Environmental Law Project, which is representing Upstate Forever. “Property owners are bearing the burden. ”
Beckham said the project will benefit South Carolina, providing 80,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day to contracted customers, including SCE&G of Charleston and other businesses in the state.
“Dominion’s customers have access to lower cost sources of clean-burning fuel, making their businesses more secure and supporting the economic health of the region and environment,” she said.
The federal commission approved the pipeline on Feb. 2, more than two weeks after a January deadline was extended to allow for additional environmental studies, commission spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said.
Young-Allen said Upstate Forever’s appeal for a new hearing was received March 6. The commission must respond within 30 days or the petition will be denied automatically, she said.
“If the commission can’t act due to the lack of a quorum of three commissioners or other reasons, the FERC staff has been delegated authority to issue a procedural order that will stop the statutory clock and allow the commission the time it needs to address arguments raised in the pleading,” Young-Allen said.
Corley said FERC rushed its decision because of the resignation of Chairman Norman Bay, who stepped down Feb. 3 — the day after the project was approved.
“There was a flurry of approvals, including this one, before he resigned,” Corley said. “When Bay resigned, FERC couldn’t have the ability to approve pipelines until he was replaced.”
Corley said Upstate Forever might not stop the project, but it can work to make it less objectionable.
“These pipelines are tough to defeat,” he said. “We want to get something positive for this project and the people of the Upstate who are having to bear all this cost and harm.”
Dominion expects the pipeline to be in service by the fourth quarter of this year.