Court to rule if gas expansion plan needed environment study

Posted October 18

— The state Supreme Court is considering whether Connecticut's environmental protection agency and state regulators were wrong for not studying the potential environmental impact of a major natural gas expansion plan before they approved it in 2013.

The high court's review comes in a lawsuit filed two years ago by the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, a group of more than 500 energy marketers who sell gasoline and heating fuel to residents and businesses across the state.

The association claims the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority violated the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act by approving the gas expansion plan without first performing an environmental impact evaluation. The plans call for making natural gas available to up to 300,000 additional homes by building about 900 more miles of gas mains over the next decade.

"The conversion process will have an unprecedented impact on the environment, principally by significantly increasing the amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, that is emitted each year by Connecticut's gas companies," lawyers for the association wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court.

The association says the state Environmental Policy Act requires an environmental impact evaluation any time a state agency proposes or initiates any activities that may adversely affect the environment. It's seeking a court order stopping gas expansion projects until an environmental assessment is done.

An attorney for the association did not immediately return a message Tuesday.

The state attorney general's office, which is defending the two agencies, said in legal briefs the state required gas companies to reduce methane leakage from their systems. The office said the companies will be using non-corrosive plastic pipes for both expansion and replacing existing corrosive steel and cast iron pipes that leak greenhouse gases.

Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay dismissed the lawsuit last year. He agreed with the state agencies that the lawsuit was barred by government immunity and that the association failed to state a valid claim under the Environmental Policy Act.

Dubay also ruled the act requires an environmental impact evaluation only for activities funded or proposed to be undertaken by the state. The judge said the natural gas expansion plan was initiated by the legislature and developed and funded by gas companies.

The association appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case last week. It's not clear when the justices will issue a ruling.

The gas expansion plan was part of a comprehensive energy strategy approved in 2013 by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is required by state law to develop a strategy. The legislature first approved that state law in 1978, citing the state's dependence on petroleum, and told the department to put together a gas expansion plan.

Later in 2013, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority granted final approval to an infrastructure plan submitted by the three major natural gas providers in the state — Connecticut Natural Gas, Southern Connecticut Gas and Yankee Gas.

Since then, the gas companies have been expanding service across the state.


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