Pipeline opponents say tree-cutting along Pa.-NY border is illegal

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A coalition of environmental activists, attorneys and residents of Pennsylvania and New York met last Thursday in Albany to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reject the construction of the Constitution Pipeline and to denounce current tree-cutting associated with the project.

The proposed pipeline is being developed by Williams, an energy infrastructure company and Cabot Oil & Gas to connect Appalachian natural gas supplies in northern Pennsylvania with major Northeastern markets.

Speakers at the Albany press conference said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is disregarding New York state authority, because it has “prematurely” approved mass tree cutting along the 25-mile Pennsylvanian route of the proposed Constitution Pipeline.

“A 401 Water Quality Certificate was not granted by the DEC, this is a Fifth-Amendment due process violation,” said Anne-Marie Garti, an attorney associated with Stop the Pipeline, an organization dedicated to preventing the construction of the Constitution Pipeline.  The group argues that the proposed pipeline will have harmful effects on the environment and local agriculture. Members of the organization point out the pipeline would store and transport fracked gas that would run through watersheds where fracking has been banned and that it would lower property values in the affected areas.

If completed, the proposed pipeline would run 124 miles from Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, to Schoharie County, New York.  It would have the capacity to transport 650,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day.

Speakers argue that the proposed pipeline is a direct threat to residents of New York and Pennsylvania, because it would destroy more than 1,800 acres of land, cross 700 streams and require 700,000 trees to be cut down, which can result in erosion.  They also said that similar pipelines, like the Iroquois and Millennium Pipelines, have caused safety and environmental concerns in the past.

“If you can stop it in [New York], it would stop it in [Pennsylvania]; our governor has not supported us,” said Maryann Zeffer, a property owner in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, whose family owns a maple farm she says has been threatened by the proposed tree-cutting associated with the pipeline.

Those in favor of the pipeline say that during the construction phase, it is estimated that the workforce will be comprised of five teams of 260 workers totaling up to 1,300 new construction jobs.  It is also estimated that 2,400 direct and indirect jobs will be created during the construction phase.  The project is expected to generate $17 million in new sales and income tax revenue.

Williams and Cabot Oil & Gas say that tree cutting must be completed by March 31 to avoid harm to certain species of birds and bats. In coordination with state and federal agencies, Constitution Pipeline has agreed to voluntarily provide $8.6 million in conservation funding for the restoration and preservation of migratory bird habits.

The DEC must make a decision by late April whether to issue a 401 quality certificate and ultimately allow the Constitution Pipeline to be built. The DEC is currently reviewing the potential effects of the pipeline.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has asked FERC to deny permission to start work until the state water quality permit is issued.

“Gov. Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos can put an end to this broken FERC process by denying the 401 water quality certificate right now,” said Roger Downs, Conservation Director, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.