Del. Riverkeeper Network v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm’n

Environmental Impact Assessment
Land Use
Oil & Gas

Del. Riverkeeper Network v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm’n, No. 13-1015 (D.C. Cir. 2014)
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

A gas pipeline owner submitted four proposals to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for permission to upgrade different portions of a pipeline that carries natural gas.  The upgrades collectively amounted to a complete overhaul of the pipeline system.

Environmental organizations challenged FERC’s decision authorizing construction of the third proposal, known as the “Northeast Project.”  FERC prepared an environmental assessment and concluded that the Northeast Project would not cause a significant impact to the environment.  However, the organizations alleged that FERC did not consider the project in conjunction with the three other connected, closely related, and interdependent pipeline upgrade projects, nor did FERC consider the cumulative impact of the set of projects.  Pages 7-10.

At the time FERC was considering the Northeast Project, the other pipeline upgrade projects were either under construction or pending before the agency.  The Court held, “[w]hen the connections and interdependencies became clear and were brought to FERC’s attention, the agency was obliged to assess the entire pipeline for environment effects.” Page 27.  The Court went on to criticize the agency’s cursory conclusion in the environmental assessment that the pipeline projects would not cause significant cumulative impacts to the environment.  Page 28.

The Court concluded: “On the record before us, we hold that in conducting its environmental review of the Northeast Project without considering the other connected, closely related, and interdependent projects on the Eastern Leg, FERC impermissibly segmented the environmental review in violation of NEPA. We also find that FERC’s EA is deficient in its failure to include any meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of the upgrade projects.”  Page 6.