After enduring years of pipeline construction delays due to environmental concerns in the Obama administration, the Trump presidency is effectively turning energy policy on its head. The chief goal of the president and his Energy Secretary Rick Perry lately is to examine ways to get around roadblocks that have made it increasingly difficult to build in certain parts of the U.S. The Trump administration has most recently discussed the possibility of using federal authority to speed infrastructure development for new pipeline projects in direct conflict with the traditional sacred cow of Republicans, states’ rights.
FERC’s approval of the construction of an eight-mile natural gas pipeline under development by Millennium Pipeline Co., even after New York environmental officials rejected the project is an aggressive talisman of things to come.
“We have to understand the country’s needs and balance that,” says FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, a Trump appointee. “I’m a big believer in states’ rights.” Under the federal Clean Water Act, the New York project must get state approval before construction to protect against contamination, but FERC ruled the state took too long to act. This decision is currently being challenged by the state’s attorneys in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Other pipeline companies took notice of the FERC decision in New York and now Williams Co., filed an application for its 125-mile Constitution pipeline which New York rejected last year.
The Trump administration claims without the rapid construction of pipelines to move product to market, the country will not be able to keep up with production, a key component of his economic agenda. In New England, which relies increasingly on natural gas for electricity production as coal and nuclear power plants are shuttered, a lack of pipelines to deliver the gas has resulted in power prices that are among the highest in the nation.
More than five pipelines are scheduled to come online in the Northeast during the next year, representing 11 billion cubic feet a day of gas capacity, enough to power more than 250,000 homes, says Luke Jackson, an analyst at S&P Global Platts. But less than a third of that is under construction, leaving the possibility that environmental action could cause delays. If pipeline companies get their way, Congress will restrict criteria states can use to delay a project bringing states’ rights to the forefront as the Republican party struggles to hang on to their conservative roots.