In a victory for New York, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New York State's decision to block the Constitution Pipeline, a 124-mile natural gas pipeline intended to carry fracked gas from the Marcellus shale fields in Pennsylvania to New York State.
This case carries nationwide implications as it will invariably influence states' decisions to block pipelines under the Clean Water Act across the country.
The Constitution Pipeline would have run for nearly 100 miles in New York, disturbing 250 streams, creeks, and other watercourses, including 85 trout streams. The impacts on water quality would not be limited to the 250 water crossings—the pipeline would also harm 85 acres of wetlands and clear nearly 500 acres of forest.
In April 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation denied water quality certification to the pipeline in accordance with section 401 of the Clean Water Act, effectively preventing the pipeline from being constructed within the state. New York stated that it denied certification because Constitution Pipeline failed to provide sufficient information demonstrating that the pipeline would comply with New York State water quality standards.
One month after New York’s denial, Constitution Pipeline, with support from the fossil fuel industry, sued the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. NRDC, representing a coalition of groups including itself Water Defense, Earthworks, PennEnvironment, Peconic Baykeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, filed an amicus brief in support of the state’s decision.
Today, the Second Circuit upheld New York State’s decision, reaffirming states’ power to stop dangerous natural gas pipelines within their borders, even after the federal government has otherwise approved the project.
This decision may influence ongoing litigation around another natural gas pipeline, the Northern Access Pipeline, which is also being heard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In April, New York State similarly denied water quality certification for Northern Access, a decision that was also challenged by the pipeline company and the fossil fuel industry. As it did in this lawsuit, NRDC submitted an amicus brief last week on behalf of itself, Water Defense, Peconic Baykeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance in support of New York State’s decision to block Northern Access.
We hope that today's decision will have effects beyond New York, and other states will be empowered to block future natural gas pipelines planned for construction within their borders.