MEDINA — Attorneys for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed a request Tuesday with the U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio asking that a case against the commission brought by landowners from Medina, Stark and Summit counties be dismissed.
On May 12, more than 60 people, led by attorney David Mucklow of Green, joined in a 50-page lawsuit asking that FERC and the NEXUS Gas Transmission business group be stopped from proceeding with construction of a $2 billion proposed natural gas pipeline.
The filing Tuesday followed a conference call among lawyers June 5 that was ordered by Northern District Court Judge John Adams of the court’s Akron office.
Paul Gierosky of York Township, one of the parties in the lawsuit, said the comments by Adams in the conference call were encouraging to members of the citizens group CORN — Coalition to Reroute NEXUS.
“I read that transcript, and I was like, ‘Yes! He gets it. He’s a man of the people,’ ” Gierosky said Wednesday.
Gierosky was one of the leaders in the formation of CORN after the pipeline was proposed in August 2014 with plans to cross private property, including his.
After the May 12 filing, FERC attorneys requested a two-month delay in the case.
The five-member commission that approves or rejects interstate pipeline requests and other matters has been operating with only two commissioners and has not had a quorum of at least three members to make rulings since its chairman Norman Bay resigned in January.
The commission will be down to one member — acting chair Cheryl LaFleur — when the term of Colette D. Honorable expires June 30.
Adams noted during the conference call that a re-establishment of a quorum at FERC, as well as the requested delay, would leave those who filed the lawsuit “without a remedy.”
In the interim, President Donald Trump nominated Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to fill two seats. Their nominations are awaiting approval by the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee followed by the full Senate.
Adams said on the call, “if indeed the commissioners (Chatterjee and Powelson) are confirmed and they take action, then it will be exceedingly difficult for the plaintiffs to find themselves a remedy in this case.”
FERC lawyers said they believed it made sense “logistically” to have the motion to dismiss the suit and the commission’s opposition to an injunction request presented to the judge at the same time.
FERC counsel Susanna Y. Chu noted the lawsuit brought by Mucklow was “trying to challenge an impact statement that actually (was) issued six months ago.”
She was referring to Nov. 30 when a FERC unit issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement that recommended the commission approve the pipeline route through Medina County and elsewhere as originally proposed.
Chu told Adams, “We think that really the urgency issue is just not controlling here.”
Adams asked later in the conference call if FERC would agree not to certify NEXUS’ approval request until a ruling was made.
Chu said, “We can’t commit the agency to that.”
Adams later reiterated his point, saying, “I’m reading the papers, the plaintiffs are saying, wait a minute, judge. If we push this out any longer, then once the certificate is issued, then we’re going to find it exceedingly difficult. We’re not going to get the benefit of any decision you might make or might reach in this case.”
Adams continued, “I can’t sit here for two or three months and let that (FERC’s delay, if granted) pend while political forces or otherwise might make this case either moot or more difficult for the plaintiffs. They’ll be left without a remedy.”
Chu said she understood Adams’ point but added, “The plaintiffs do have recourse,” noting they were participants as FERC reviewed the pipeline issues.
NEXUS is a business consortium consisting of Houston-based Spectra Energy, DTE Energy of Detroit and Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc.
The pipeline would be 256 miles and stretch from Columbiana County in eastern Ohio through Stark, Summit, Medina and Lorain counties on the way to an energy hub in Michigan.
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