Testimony of Nancy S. Vann at the People’s Hearing
Washington, DC – December 2, 2016
My name is Nancy Vann and I live in Peekskill, New York. I’m a retired Wall Street lawyer. And for the last three years, I’ve had an unexpectedly ‘close encounter’ with a pipeline. The Spectra AIM pipeline (FERC docket CP14-96). It’s kept a low profile so not everyone knows about it. Not low physically of course. It’s 42-inches in diameter, about the height of a 5-year old child. It has used eminent domain to take property my community owns – cutting down 313 trees and wrecking a wetland – all without independent review.
From the outset I was told we probably wouldn’t be able to stop the project. After all the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) has only turned down one application in 40 years. But I was determined to try.
There are many reasons fracked gas pipelines shouldn’t be built: old growth forests, waters pollution, toxic airborne chemicals, endangered species, reduced property values, higher taxes, ‘boom and bust’ energy market instability, ratepayers and shareholders bearing the costs of ‘stranded assets,’ and of course drastic climate change impacts. You’ll hear a lot about those reasons today.
But the most important reason for stopping this pipeline is its proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power plant – a mere 25 miles north of NY City on the banks of the Hudson River. You’ll hear about the plant’s potential 50-mile fallout radius from nuclear expert Paul Blanch. The AIM pipeline replaces a much smaller line that was installed in the early 1950’s before the nuclear plant was built.
So why is the new line more dangerous?
A cross section of a 42-inch pipe is three times the area of the old 24-inch line and according to the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines built in the 2010’s are failing at more than three times the rate per mile of pipelines installed in the 1950’s. And we know that the AIM pipeline greatly increases the probability of a ‘Fukushima-on-the-Hudson’ catastrophe that could make NY City uninhabitable for millennia.
Then why did FERC approve the AIM project?
First they relied on an environmental review by a company with a serious conflict of interest you’ll hear about later. Then they failed to even plausibly evaluate a risk assessment from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an agency with no expertise in pipeline safety.
Perhaps the most important reason, however, is that FERC ignored all of our objections: during the ‘scoping’ period, to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and to the Final Environmental Impact Statement. They also ignored letters from New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. They ignored letters from Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren. And they ignored letters from our members of the House of Representatives. They ignored letters from our New York Governor and four State agencies. In fact, FERC ignored letters and submissions from elected officials at every level of government in all four of the impacted States (NY, CT, RI, and MA). The Commissioners weren’t even willing to listen to my remarks about the pipeline’s dangers as I was forcibly dragged out of a nominally ‘public’ FERC meeting just for trying to bring Governor Cuomo’s letter to their attention.
True to form, FERC rubber stamped the AIM approval.
Then the City of Boston, the Town of Dedham, Riverkeeper, and our own coalition of 28 groups and individuals each came up with the money to file our own Rehearing Requests. FERC ignored them all under a ‘tolling order’ – for more than eight months – while the pipeline construction continued to proceed rapidly.
No one – not states, not cities, not elected officials, not citizens – can file a court challenge to the validity of a pipeline approval until FERC has responded to a Rehearing Request. And of course FERC eventually said “no.” Our Federal lawsuit is finally proceeding but the AIM project is nearly finished.
So three unelected FERC Commissioners have enabled the destruction of life, land, and safety across the U.S. without any accountability. FERC must be investigated before it’s too late – not just for us in New York – for our country, our world, and our very survival.