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FERC okays pipeline, opposition continues to fight

January 21st, 2016 under Top Stories

By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN

“The fight is far from over,” said Coyne Gibson, a leader in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

Gibson was responding to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s published environmental assessment (EA) on Monday, which concluded that approval of the pipeline project would have no significant effect on the quality of the human environment. The EA also included a recommendation “that the Commission Order contain a finding of no significant impact.”

In other words, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) now has the missing link in its efforts to begin construction of the natural gas pipeline that will run from West Texas into Mexico.

City of Presidio economic development director Brad Newton welcomed the news.

“I look forward to all the many benefits the pipeline will bring to Presidio and our neighboring communities,” Newton said. “I am not surprised in the FERC assessment on the non-environmental impact on its path. My view always has been that converting Mexico power plants off of coal to natural gas is the best solution to the air pollution in the Big Bend.”

In response to FERC’s “no impact” statement, ETP representative Lisa Dillinger remarked that its issuance is routine: “The EA and its recommendations are standard operating procedures with these types of border crossing projects, including the mitigation measures we outlined in our original application,” Dillinger said. “This issuance brings us one step closer to beginning construction on the border crossing facilities.”

But while ETP might view the assessment as just another rubber stamp, the EA undermines months of efforts by pipeline opposition members, and the more than 600 comments that were filed to FERC in protest of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

“At a personal level, I am outraged over the FERC’s decision,” Gibson said. “At best, this represents a complete and total failure of a federal regulatory agency’s oversight responsibility under the law. At best, they paid mere lip service to the 600-plus commenters, who provided substantive comments, took the time to participate in the process, and in the end were ignored.

But Gibson maintains that while the opposition is dismayed, it is not defeated.

In fact, it is mobilizing. Gibson said, “Between now and February 3rd, the combined resources of the BBCA, and Defend Big Bend, along with citizens, will be conducting a number of FERC commenting workshops on the topic of ‘impermissible segmentation,’ and a number of other legal issues that stem from this central violation of the law.”

Via the concept of “impermissible segmentation,” the opposition is making the claim that FERC is violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to acknowledge that the 1,080-foot segment of pipe that will run beneath the Rio Grande, also known as the “Presidio Crossing Project,” is at all related to the proposed “intrastate” Trans-Pecos Pipeline, all 143 miles of which will eventually connect to that very Presidio crossing.

By designating the 143-mile pipeline separate from the piece of pipeline that will cross international boundaries, ETP has managed to avoid the much more stringent requirements that come with federal oversight of an internationally designated project.

“We intend to fully exercise due process in this matter,” Gibson said. “We expect that the FERC will continue to bury its head in the sand, and ignore the law, and the input from more than 600 citizens, and in the end will continue to recommend to the Commission a finding of no significant impact.”

He added, “If that is the final result in April, those of us who have filed interventions will be able to appeal the Commission’s decision. If that appeal is unsuccessful, we finally have an option in Federal court.”

But for the pipeline company, it’s full steam ahead. Dillinger said, “Regarding the 143-miles of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, we are in the process of finalizing our construction plans and anticipate starting construction in the coming months.”

Reporter Robert Halpern contributed to this report.

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