New York, February 4, 2016—
Columbia Law School Professor Edward Lloyd testified on Feb. 2
before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Power, opposing legislation that would allow aerial survey data to be given equal weight as ground survey data by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
(FERC) in approving new pipeline projects. He testified on behalf of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation
(NJCF) and Stony Brook- Millstone Watershed Association
(SBMWA), and argued that the legislation would allow for the approval of projects with significant negative environmental impacts based on a survey technique that is unable to catalog much of the data required for an accurate review.
“Aerial surveys can’t possibly capture the data required to identify and evaluate a host of critical natural and cultural resources,” said Lloyd, the Evan M. Frankel Clinical Professor in Environmental Law and director of the Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic
. “Aerial surveys would also undermine the privacy and property-rights of homeowners in the path of proposed pipelines. FERC should not be able to confer the power of eminent domain to private companies that want to build a pipeline based upon faulty data.”
“We have grave concerns about the AIR Survey Act of 2015 in light of what we are experiencing with the PennEast pipeline in New Jersey,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director – Energy, Climate & Natural Resources for NJCF. “PennEast has failed to provide complete and accurate data on potential impacts to land, water, wildlife and historic resources. Weakening the review process to allow aerial survey data to replace far more accurate ground survey data would be a huge step in the wrong direction.”
“In New Jersey, where homeowners, citizen groups, municipalities, state and federal officials are fighting several pipeline proposals, including the PennEast Pipeline, the AIR Survey Act of 2015 would lead to devastating results for land, waterways and homeowners in the path,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of SBMWA.
Homeowners along the path of the proposed pipeline have complained of frequent airplanes and helicopters flying overhead, invading their peace and privacy. In a recent news article
, a PennEast Pipeline Company spokesperson, stated, amidst homeowner outcry over multiple sightings of helicopters over properties, that “…PennEast is not using helicopters for surveys." Despite this assurance, one homeowner who filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about a low-riding aircraft over her property, received a letter from the FAA confirming that a helicopter, “was a flight on behalf of the PennEast Pipeline Project for the purpose of aerial survey along the proposed pipeline route.”
The impetus behind the proposal for faster, less thorough review is unclear given FERC’s relatively quick approval record. According to Lloyd, despite the exponential increase in pipeline applications, there is no indication that FERC’s decision-making process has become overly burdened or delayed; recent congressional hearings on this issue revealed that 92% of natural gas pipeline applications are decided within twelve months.
Lloyd also noted that the FERC approval process needs to examine pipeline proposals systematically and/or regionally to determine if new infrastructure is needed. “The current approval process fails to adequately assess whether additional pipelines are required by public necessity. Despite the proliferation in pipeline proposals, FERC continues to evaluate pipelines individually.”
Lloyd’s testimony—which was prepared with assistance from students in the Environmental Law Clinic—is available here.