On May 20, 2021, FERC issued two orders in which it authorized two pipeline companies to construct and abandon certain pipeline facilities, subject to conditions. In an exciting and sometimes tense Commission open-meeting, the Commission ultimately approved Northern Natural Gas Company’s (“Northern”) application to construct and operate certain pipeline compression and auxiliary facilities and abandon short segments of existing pipeline (“2021 Expansion Project”) in Minnesota.
Northern’s application provided that the 2021 Expansion Project will enable it to provide 45,693 dekatherms per day (“Dth/d”) of additional firm natural gas transportation service. The Commission also approved Tuscarora Gas Transmission Company’s (“Tuscarora”) request to replace one 600 horsepower (“hp”) compressor unit with one 1,380 hp compressor unit at its existing Wadsworth Compressor Station in Washoe County, Nevada, in order to provide an additional 15,000 Dth/d of firm transportation service from an existing interconnection with Gas Transmission Northwest LLC in Klamath County, Oregon, to an existing interconnect with Paiute Pipeline Company in Washoe County, Nevada.
For both projects, FERC concluded that the proposals satisfied the threshold requirement of the Commission’s Certificate Policy Statement, that both applicants—Northern and Tuscarora—be able to financially support the projects without subsidization from existing customers. FERC concluded that both projects took the necessary steps to minimize harm to customers, landowners, and surrounding communities.
Regarding the projects’ environmental impacts, Commissioner Danley issued last-minute amendments to both orders during the open meeting providing that the analysis of each project’s greenhouse gas emissions was for “informational purposes only,” does not inform any part of the orders’ holding, and may not serve as precedent for any future certificate order. Commissioner Danly’s amendment follows his concurring opinion in a previous proceeding where he stated that the Commission violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it reversed its longstanding position that it cannot assess the significance of a project’s greenhouse gas emissions. (See March 29, 2021 edition of the WER).
Following Commissioner Danly’s last-minute amendments and after spirited discussion, the Commission ultimately concluded that both projects sufficiently addressed commenters’ concerns, and that if constructed, and operated in accordance with Northern’s and Tuscarora’s applications and supplements, as well as the environmental conditions in the appendices of both orders, FERC’s approval of both projects does not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.
Chairman Glick and Commissioner Clements concurred in part and dissented in part with a joint separate statement for both orders to address two issues regarding Northern’s 2021 Expansion Project and Tuscarora’s Project: the need for the Project and the Commission’s consideration of the greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions it will cause. In both instances, Chairman Glick and Commissioner Clements agreed that both companies produced sufficient evidence to affirm that the projects are needed. They dissented, however, about the Commission’s decision not to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (“EIS”) to examine the effect that the GHG emissions caused by the Project will have on climate change. Accordingly, Chairman Glick and Commissioner Clements argued that this lack of a supplemental EIS is insufficient to satisfy the Commission’s responsibilities under NEPA, and, therefore, they believed they had no choice but to dissent.