Court rules New York had power to deny key pipeline permit

By MARY ESCH Markets Associated Press

In a decision held up as an affirmation of the right of states to reject major oil and gas infrastructure, a federal court ruled Friday that New York acted properly when it blocked plans for a 124-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania's shale fields.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the Constitution Pipeline company's argument that the state Department of Environmental Conservation was "arbitrary and capricious" in denying a water quality permit last year. The ruling said federal law entitled the department to conduct its own review of the pipeline's likely impact on water bodies.

"We hope this sends a loud message that New York will not rubber stamp any project that fails to protect public health and our environment," said commissioner Basil Seggos.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline intended to carry cheap, natural gas from Pennsylvania to eastern New York in 2014, conditioned on state permits. Pennsylvania approved all permits needed in its section of the project, and tree-clearing began in preparation for construction.

But New York regulators stopped the project in its tracks when they determined it failed to meet standards to protect streams, wetlands and other water resources.

The pipeline company, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams Cos., said Friday it remains committed to the project.

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New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a coalition of labor and business groups, urged DEC to work with the Constitution team to resolve water quality issues and move the project forward.

"New York must not throw up road blocks to building the infrastructure necessary to ensure all of our state's energy consumers are able to access our nation's abundant natural gas resources," the coalition said.

Environmental groups said the ruling confirms the authority of states to protect their water bodies from threats posed by pipelines crossing critical watersheds.

"This is not just a victory for the people impacted along the pipeline route, but gives hope across the country for people facing the onslaught of oil and gas infrastructure," said Wes Gillingham, associate director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.