U.S. Firm Invokes New Law in Pipeline Suit Immediately after President Bush signed the energy bill into law, a Connecticut company went to federal court to try to revive its gas pipeline project. It's the first known lawsuit filed as a result of the new law, which expands federal authority in utility disputes. State officials had denied the project over environmental concerns. From member station WNPR, Nancy Cohen reports.

U.S. Firm Invokes New Law in Pipeline Suit

U.S. Firm Invokes New Law in Pipeline Suit

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Immediately after President Bush signed the energy bill into law, a Connecticut company went to federal court to try to revive its gas pipeline project. It's the first known lawsuit filed as a result of the new law, which expands federal authority in utility disputes. State officials had denied the project over environmental concerns. From member station WNPR, Nancy Cohen reports.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The new federal energy bill is already having an impact. The measure gives federal courts more authority in disputes over energy projects. As Nancy Cohen of member station WNPR reports, that has given new hope to supporters of a pipeline project in Connecticut.

NANCY COHEN reporting:

Four years ago the Islander East Pipeline Company announced a proposal to build a 50-mile pipeline to carry natural gas underneath Long Island Sound from Connecticut to New York. Islander East spokesperson John Sheridan says it would deliver gas from Canada to residential customers on Long Island to meet a growing need for more energy.

Mr. JOHN SHERIDAN (Islander East Pipeline Company): Long Island--the growth for residential use of natural gas is 6 percent, and nationally the average is at 2 percent. So there is a strong demand for natural gas on Long Island.

COHEN: Both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the US Commerce Department have approved the pipeline. But Connecticut authorities denied a key water-quality certificate, in effect, stopping the project. Islander East appealed that decision 14 months ago in state Superior Court. But last week, just a few hours after President Bush signed the energy bill, the company filed another suit, this time in federal court. That's because a provision in the law gives new life to projects that have been stalled at the state level by allowing federal appellate courts to review them. Islander East's John Sheridan says now the project will get a fair hearing. But the plan faces stiff opposition in Brandford, the shoreline community where the pipeline would enter the water.

Mr. JONATHAN WATERS(ph) (Brandford Resident): I was shocked. I couldn't think of a more inappropriate place to do it.

COHEN: Jonathan Waters grew up in Brandford and has harvested oysters here in the sound for 22 years.

Mr. WATERS: It's going to start at this--behind that large building there, and they're going to come under the oyster beds, which is where we are, and then come out by those rocks over there.

COHEN: Those rocks are part of the Thimbles, an archipelago of hundreds of granite islands that look more like coastal Maine than Connecticut. Waters says he's worried pipeline construction could alter the character of what's above the waterline and stir up sediment below, smothering shellfish. Those are some of the concerns that drove the state Department of Environmental Protection to reject the project. Gina McCarthy is the commissioner of the Connecticut DEP. She says Islander East could choose other routes across the sound, which would both protect the environment and meet the demand for more energy.

Ms. GINA McCARTHY (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection): I don't think we need to make that trade-off, and at the federal level they need to recognize that. States aren't turning their backs on their energy needs. We just want to get clean energy, and we want to protect the environment at the same time.

COHEN: Supporters of the new energy laws say a more streamlined process is needed to get important energy projects done. Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, one of the key architects of the law, says by allowing federal courts to review interstate energy projects, the larger interests of the country are served.

Representative JOE BARTON (Republican, Texas): This new law does not preclude a state from saying no. But what it does do--if that state says no, that appeal can go to federal court, where you get the broader view. And the issues and the concerns of the broader constituency are brought to bear as opposed to the specific issues within one state.

COHEN: But Harvard Law School Professor Richard Fallon says the new energy law does reduce the influence of states.

Professor RICHARD FALLON (Harvard Law School): People previously, I think, would have explained the existing distribution of state and national power as one that had been put in place out of respect for the state's prerogative. Now we see a diminished respect for the state's prerogatives in comparison with national policy goals.

COHEN: The new energy law increases federal oversight of not only natural gas pipelines but liquified natural gas terminals and some electric transmission lines. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Cohen in Hartford.

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