Even as a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission impact study released last week green-lighted the proposed NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline, a legal advocate for its opposition said the fight doesn’t have to be over.
Toledo attorney Terry Lodge said any of a series of smaller battles still being waged against the project could result in a David versus Goliath victory.
In a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) released Nov. 30, FERC acknowledged the pipeline project would result in both short-term and long-term environmental impacts along the approximately 255-mile NEXUS route. They include damage to vegetation and land, noise pollution, and air quality issues.
But the FEIS says those impacts would be within acceptable levels if the pipeline partnership abides by applicable laws and regulations.
FERC based its opinion on information supplied by the Texas-based Spectra Energy and Texas Energy pipeline companies. The commission also relied on data, field investigations, analysis, contacts with government agencies, and public opinion. The public’s input included open forums in Swanton and neighboring communities the proposed pipeline would affect.
In the course of its research, FERC assessed 15 route alternatives to the proposed NEXUS pipeline.
In a statement also released Nov. 30, NEXUS said it spent more than two years developing the pipeline route in order to lessen its environmental impact.
“Overall, FERC has responded to concerns raised by stakeholders and found that the NEXUS project will not have a significant adverse effect on local communities,” the statement said. “The FEIS notes that while construction will temporarily affect the environment, the environmental impacts would be less than significant in light of the project’s proposed mitigation and other mitigation measures recommended by FERC Environmental Staff.”
NEXUS said 239 changes were made from the pipeline’s original route, totaling 231 miles or 91 percent of the pipeline’s path. The partnership said many were adopted to placate landowners and to protect environmental resources.
When contacted, NEXUS spokesperson Adam Parker referred the Expositor to the pipeline project’s news releases.
The FERC ruling removes a major hurdle for NEXUS, placing the company on a path to receive the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity it applied for one year ago. If approval is given, construction on the pipeline is expected to begin in March.
The pipeline company is a partnership between Spectra Energy and DTE Energy in Michigan. The proposed 36-inch pipeline would transport upwards of 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily through Ohio and Michigan before connecting with a processing facility in Ontario, Canada.
Lodge, who represents opponents of NEXUS, admits that halting the pipeline plans has become a long shot. But he said it may still be possible to halt the pipeline through smaller attempts.
As examples, he cited:
• A complaint filed by the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, against DTE Energy. The national club alleges the energy company is attempting to place responsibility for its $1 million share of the pipeline onto rate payers, in violation of antitrust laws.
• Opposition by Bowling Green residents to a NEXUS proposal for a $151,000 easement across city-owned land that is 2 1/2 miles from the city’s water intake plant on the Maumee River.
• Legal challenges by grassroots Waterville groups to air quality permits issued by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for a local pipeline compressor station.
“You can either look at this as a bunch of isolated skirmishes that can be stamped out … or that there is a great deal of opposition. This is not over by virtue of that,” Lodge said. “People are resisting the notion that they should have to give up something for an export pipeline.”
Simply because FERC will vote to grant NEXUS a permit to build does not equal success for the partnership, he said.
“It’s not a success until it’s built, and we’re doing what we can to present this as a much more complicated business proposition than NEXUS prefers to treat it,” Lodge said. “The emphasis is business-priority driven, and at the same time they’re asking people to adjust their lives to a 36-inch pipeline.
“We feel (the pipeline is) a terrible business plan. We want to kill their project. For an export scheme that is only for making money it doesn’t benefit Ohio.”
The strategy remains to disrupt the pipeline’s financing through legal means, he said. A successful delay of the project’s scheduled November 2017 completion date could prove problematic for both NEXUS and its investors.
“What we are essentially battling for is that the economic schemes…don’t pan out for Spectra and DTE,” Lodge said.
Outspoken pipeline opponent Paul Wohlfarth likened the pipeline trend to the country’s 2006 housing bubble.
“They overbuilt houses, and it all crashed. There’s a mad rush to build (pipelines), and they’re going to find out they don’t need them,” he said. “Most pipelines in the U.S. only have a 50 percent usage rate. NEXUS is just a pipeline for the pipeline company. It’s not needed.”
He said it’s important to continue the fight against NEXUS or “it’ll never end. It’s an abuse of eminent domain. And it’s a risky proposition anyway.”
Wohlfarth said he sees animosity for the pipeline increasing. “We’ve got people coming out of the woodwork that are supporting us now. They’re getting involved. The more you get involved and see what really goes on, the more it angers you.”
He said people willing to concede to NEXUS “would think different if it was on your property. Those guys don’t give a damn about you, and they’ll ruin your life.”
Wohlfarth added, “It’s not final yet. There’s always hope.”
Another local opponent, Liz Athaide-Victor of Swancreek Township, was among three northwest Ohio residents who testified about what they feel are questionable practices by FERC regarding pipelines at a live-streamed National Press Club event held Friday in Washington, D.C. She and other citizens from across the country voiced their objections before an audience of senators and congressmen including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Athaide-Victor said FERC’s decision wasn’t unexpected, but calls the commission’s actions into question.
“It’s time for renewable energy, it’s not time for fossil fuel,” she said.
Like Wohlfarth, Athaide-Victor plans to fight pipelines to the end.
“We still have a lot of options and I don’t want people to give up hope. We have a lot more things that we’re looking at, so it’s not over yet,” she said.
Lodge said NEXUS opponents still have cards they can play.
“There is not a single silver bullet. The best we can hope for is that there is still some silver buckshot,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.