Court Deals Setback to Islander East
by Gregory B. Hladky, New Haven Register, Conn. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
January 31, 2008
A federal appeals court has dealt another blow to the Islander East project with a decision that effectively sends the controversial gas pipeline issue back to federal officials for reconsideration.
Conn. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal Wednesday called the ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a "huge victory in the fight against Islander East."
"It sends this project all the way back to the drawing board, in effect, back to its own 1-yard line," said Blumenthal.
"This is the best news we've had in a long, long time," said Branford First Selectman Anthony "Unk" DaRos, whose town would be affected by the project.
But Islander East spokesman John Sheridan said the decision means the next step will be either a reconsideration of the case by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce or additional federal hearings on the project.
"This project is vital to the region," said Sheridan. "It can help meet the growing energy needs of the market, in both Connecticut and Long Island."
"We still believe this is a great project," Sheridan added.
The proposed natural gas pipeline would run a total of 45 miles, from North Haven to Long Island. The plans call for 22 miles of underwater pipe that would enter Long Island Sound in Branford near the Thimble Islands and cross the floor of the Sound.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is the latest development in a long-running permitting and legal battle over the pipeline.
The state Department of Environmental Protection initially refused to issue a permit for the project because of the potential damage it would cause to valuable shellfish beds and other marine habitat.
Officials of Islander East, which is a partnership between KeySpan Energy and Spectra Energy, appealed the DEP decision to the federal government.
In May 2004, then-U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald L. Evans overturned the DEP decision. Connecticut officials immediately appealed Evans' decision.
U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport ruled last August that Evans had failed to address the pipeline's potential impact on Connecticut's valuable oyster and clam beds. Underhill sent the case back to the Commerce Department, ordering the secretary to provide more data to justify the earlier decision.
Islander East immediately appealed that finding to the federal appeals court.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case on the grounds that no final decision had been reached on Islander East's proposed permit, thus upholding the lower court ruling.
Blumenthal said the current U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Carlos M. Gutierrez, could attempt to rule on the issue himself or he could simply postpone the decision until after President Bush leaves office next year.
In that case, Blumenthal said, the matter would be decided by the incoming administration. There is no deadline for the secretary to rule, according to Blumenthal.
But the attorney general argued that Gutierrez would have an "impossible mission" if he seeks to justify overturning the Connecticut DEP's stand against the project.
Blumenthal claimed there is no way that federal officials can scientifically justify approving a pipeline that would cause "irreparable damage" to such an environmentally sensitive area.
"It is simply the worst possible energy project in the worst possible place," Blumenthal said.
"This is something we have been fighting from Day One here in Branford," said DaRos. "This was not a good plan. ... I certainly hope the federal government has better energy projects than this."
Copyright (c) 2008, New Haven Register, Conn. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Islander East Pipeline
Spectra Energy and KeySpan Energy
North Haven to Long Island United States