The Alabama Public Service Commission is scheduled to hold a proceeding Monday in Mobile to clarify the Commission’s “jurisdiction and role” in granting the pending request of Plains Mobile Pipeline, Inc. for a proposed 2.2 mile pipeline through the Prichard/Africatown area.
The proceeding is scheduled two days prior to a formal hearing in Montgomery in which the commission will actually determine whether the pipeline is “in the furtherance of industrial development” and Plains Mobile can be granted condemnation power.
In contrast to Monday’s proceeding, the public hearing to be held on Oct. 30 will be an evidentiary, due process hearing that will provide an opportunity for the petitioner to present its case and for other interested parties who have standing to intervene the opportunity to voice concerns for or against the petition, according to the PSC’s John Free.
The local proceedings, although less formal, will also allow public input and are somewhat related to the Gulf Coast Pipeline project, a 45-mile pipeline to Pascagoula with a portion running through Mobile’s primary drinking water supply. That project, developed by Plains Southcap, LLC and approved by the PSC last year, was recently stalled by Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, who ruled LLCs do not have condemnation powers in the state.
Free said the Commission occasionally holds public meetings outside of Montgomery and is a decision evaluated on a case-by-case basis with no specific criteria applicable to each circumstance. The Commission recently convened public meetings in Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Auburn as part of its review process of the Rate Stabilization and Equalization (RSE) mechanisms for Mobile Gas, Alabama Power and Alagasco.
Evidentiary, due process hearings are rarely held outside of Montgomery, Free said.
The new project would replace an existing pipeline connecting an existing Plains terminal facility on the Mobile River to a pipeline that flows to the company’s Ten Mile tank facility. From there, the company says, the pipeline “will allow crude oil to be shipped from the Mobile Terminal to Ten Mile Terminal and on to either the Capline pipeline running from Louisiana to Illinois or to Pascagoula, Mississippi via the pipeline currently being constructed by Plains Southcap.”
Courtesy Plains Mobile, Inc.
In support of its claims to further industrial development, the company says the pipeline will cost $14.4 million and employ as many as 40 people to construct. It also says another pipeline will be retired, thereby “reducing the risk of pipeline failure and ensuring that the pipeline infrastructure is well maintained.”
Monday’s proceeding comes after outcry over the pipeline permitting and approval process in relation to the Gulf Coast Pipeline last year. As the public became more aware of that project, complaints about public notification and participation grew, prompting many to point fingers at the Public Service Commission. But in fact, neither the PSC nor any other state or federal agency appears to have jurisdiction over potential environmental impacts of such projects.
Since then, the Sierra Club and Tar Sands Oil Mobile, a community coalition, have organized efforts to expose and change the process. The Tar Sands group is encouraging people to attend both Monday’s proceeding and the formal hearing Oct. 30 to speak out against the developments.
During a community-organized tour last week of areas that stand to be impacted by oil industry development, Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam said despite his city’s high unemployment rate, he’s wary of claims by the pipeline companies and the PSC that the projects will benefit the area economically.
“Realizing the environmental threats and the threats to safety and health certainly are things to be considered, versus the aspects of whether there is a higher economic benefit that will trump those other concerns, and I think there is no way those two can equal or balance out,” he said. “There has to be appropriate environmental due diligence, appropriate public health and awareness due diligence and I think there needs to be some legislative action to protect the best interest of the citizens who are going to potentially be affected if there can’t be some level of negotiations as to how you can reroute these pipelines. I don’t think citizens want to stand in the way of economic development and industry, but if there is a foreseeable threat to public safety or a clear and present viable threat, then I think there should be some amends taken into consideration as to how we can all coexist and how we can live with this particular pipeline.”
Monday’s proceeding is scheduled for 1-3 p.m. at Mobile Government Plaza. Plains Mobile’s application will be considered at 10 a.m. Oct. 30 at the L. Evans Chief Administrative Law Judge Hearing Complex, RSA Union Building, 100 North Union St., Room 900 in Montgomery.
Updated to include information provided by John Free.