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Energy commission rule will delay pipeline construction during appeals process


(Washington, D.C.) - Federal energy regulators will now delay the start of construction on energy infrastructure projects like pipelines until it makes determinations on requests to appeal its approvals.

The instant final rule issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) follows criticism from lawmakers over its procedures and treatment of landowners.

Landowners can challenge the body’s approvals of infrastructure projects by asking for a rehearing. Previously, companies could move forward with construction during that period. But they now will have to wait until either the period during which rehearing requests can be filed expires or until the commission makes a decision on the rehearing request.

FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a statement that the rule is a “step forward” in improving landowner access to the process.

“These are complex issues, with a diverse array of stakeholder input, but I remain firmly committed to doing what we can to make the FERC process as fair, open, and transparent as possible for all those affected while the Commission thoroughly considers all issues,” he said.

The rule follows a House probe that found FERC has decided to give natural gas pipeline companies eminent domain in more than 99 percent of cases over the past 20 years.

The investigation also determined that during the last 12 years, appeals were ultimately rejected every time  landowners sought to challenge the decisions to give companies eminent domain.

Oversight Committee Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.) said in a statement at that time that the “deck is totally stacked against landowners who want to defend their family’s land against takeover by private natural gas companies.”

He also criticized the agency’s process of allowing construction to begin before appeals are heard, saying “by the time [landowners] have the chance to speak up, their land has already been invaded and in some cases destroyed.”

The latest move also comes amid a court case in which several groups objected to the length of time the rehearing process can take.

In an opinion on Tuesday, the commission’s one Democrat, Richard Glick, called the action a “step in the right direction,” but said that it did not go far enough.

“It does nothing to address the concern ... that a pipeline developer should not be able to begin the process of condemning private land before the owners of that land can go to court to challenge the certificate,” Glick said.

“The harm to an individual from having his or her land condemned is one that may never be fully remedied, even in the event they receive their constitutionally required compensation,” he added.

The rule will go into effect 30 days after it was issued.

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