NY Congressman Asks President Obama To Intervene In Pipeline Project

Sep 27, 2016

A New York congressman has written to President Obama, asking him to intervene in a pipeline project under construction in the Hudson Valley and require an independent risk assessment. Meanwhile, a coalition of groups has asked a federal court to stop the pipeline’s construction.

Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel penned a letter to President Obama to bring to his attention concern over Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market, or AIM, project. Construction has been under way for more than a year.

“Frankly, a lot of the groups that have really been involved with this have been very frustrated and that they’ve been thwarted at every turn and suggested to me, could we contact the president, and I said, sure,” Engel says. “So, again, we’re not quite sure what he can do with this but I wanted to bring it to his attention because it’s important. It involves national security. It involves public safety. It certainly involves my constituents. So we’ll see what happens. My attitude is that I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. I want to keep fighting this.”

Much of Houston-based Spectra’s AIM pipeline is replacing 26-diameter pipeline with 42-inch diameter pipeline. The project starts in Rockland County and moves through Westchester and Putnam Counties before heading into Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Again, Engel.

“Right now, we are trying to figure out any way, maybe some people would say grasping at straws but I think we’re trying to figure out what’s best,” Engel says. “And I’m sure the president can be helpful if the Administration chooses to be.”

Part of the expansion includes a portion of the property of the Buchanan-based Indian Point nuclear power plant, where there already are two lines. Engel expresses his concern about the pipeline’s proximity to Indian Point in his letter to the president.

Indian Point takes no position on the pipeline, and officials there worked with Spectra to enhance protective measures, such as increasing the pipe’s thickness and burying the pipe deeper. Indian Point parent Entergy had commissioned an independent analysis of impacts that could result from pipeline failure and the analysis determined there were no increased risks. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted an analysis and reached the same conclusion. Engel, Riverkeeper and others argue that the analysis was not independent. And Engel, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, believes the lack of an independent risk assessment stems from the following.

“And what really has irritated me for a long, for many years now that I’ve been in Congress, and I’m on the Energy and Commerce Committee, it’s that the coziness between the industry and the regulatory people,” Engel says.

A FERC spokesperson did not respond in time for this broadcast. Meanwhile, environmental group Riverkeeper, as part of a coalition, has filed a Motion for a Stay, asking a federal court to order the pipeline construction to be halted. John Parker is director of legal programs for Westchester County-based Riverkeeper.

“And here’s the simple request: Don’t let the gas go through the pipeline,” Parker says. “It’s not too late to avert a problem if we’re smart. If we stop gas going through the pipeline, no matter where it is in terms of the construction, we can have an analysis done the right way and then determine whether or not the pipeline has to be moved. After the gas is turned on and the gas moves through the pipeline, unfortunately, it could be too late.”

A lawsuit challenging FERC’s approval of the project is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

A Spectra spokeswoman, in an emailed statement says, “Algonquin Gas Transmission (Algonquin) will continue with its construction of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project, in accordance with the FERC Certificate, to meet the project’s critical construction timeframes and safely transport additional supplies of clean, reliable, domestic natural gas to heat the region’s homes and businesses.” As for the motion of stay, neither Spectra nor FERC comments on ongoing litigation. 

Parker says the Motion for a Stay also is based on new information from experts about safety risks of placing the pipeline near a nuclear power plant that was not part of the original record.

“Not on the record originally,” says Parker. “Critical with respect to the blast zone and impact areas if a rupture were to occur. and has to be addressed on the merits before gas flows through that pipeline.”

In August, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand asked FERC to suspend pipeline construction in light of continued public opposition to the project. The senators requested that FERC commission an independent review of the potential health, safety and environmental impacts.