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Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 24, 2017

DELAWARE RIVERKEEPER NETWORK; MAYA VAN ROSSUM, the Delaware Riverkeeper, Petitioners
v.
SECRETARY PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION; PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, Respondents TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE CORP, Intervenor Respondent NEW JERSEY CONSERVATION FOUNDATION; STONY BROOK MILLSTONE WATERSHED ASSOCIATION; FRIENDS OF PRINCETON OPEN SPACE, Petitioners
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION; TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE CORP, Respondents

          Argued on October 29, 2015

         On Petition for Review of an Order of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Agency Nos. FERC CP13-551-00; EA40-013 & EA45-002) (Agency Nos. 0000-13-0012.1FHA140001, 0000-13-0012.1FWW140001, 0000-13-0012.2FHA140001 & 0000-13-0012.2FWW140001)

          Aaron J. Stemplewicz, Esquire (Argued) Delaware Riverkeeper Network Counsel for Petitioners Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Maya Van Rossum

          Katherine V. Dresdner, Esquire Aaron Kleinbaum, Esquire Eastern Environmental Law Center, Susan J. Kraham, Esquire Edward Lloyd, Esquire (Argued) Counsel for Petitioners New Jersey Conservation Foundation Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association and Friends of Princeton Open Space

          Joseph S. Cigan, III, Esquire (Argued) Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Kimberly Hummel Childe, Esquire Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, Margaret O. Murphy, Esquire Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Curtis C. Sullivan, Esquire Department of Environmental Protection Counsel for Respondents Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

          Pamela S. Goodwin, Esquire Patrick F. Nugent, Esquire John F. Stoviak, Esquire (Argued) Saul Ewing Elizabeth U. Witmer, Esquire Saul Ewing Counsel for Intervenor Respondent Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp

          Mark A. Collier, Esquire John E. Doyle, Esquire Timothy P. Malone, Esquire Lewin J. Weyl, Esquire (Argued) Office of the Attorney General of New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety Counsel for Respondent New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

          Michael K. Rutter, Esquire Heather N. Oehlmann, Esquire Christine A. Roy, Esquire (Argued) Richard G. Scott, Esquire Watson, Stevens, Rutter & Roy Counsel for Respondent Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp

          Before: GREENAWAY, JR., SCIRICA and ROTH, Circuit Judges

          OPINION

          ROTH, Circuit Judge:

         In this appeal, we are called upon to review water quality-related permitting actions by New Jersey and Pennsylvania for a project by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC (Transco), which operates the Transcontinental pipeline, a 10, 000-mile pipeline that extends from South Texas to New York City. Transco sought federal approval to expand a portion of the pipeline, called the Leidy Line, which connects gas wells in Central Pennsylvania with the main pipeline. Pursuant to the Clean Water Act, the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Departments of Environmental Protection (PADEP and NJDEP, respectively) reviewed Transco's proposal for potential water quality impacts and issued permits for construction. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, and Friends of Princeton Open Space (collectively, the Foundation) petitioned this Court for review of NJDEP's decision to issue these permits. In a separate petition to this Court, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Maya van Rossum (collectively, the Riverkeeper) challenged PADEP's issuance of a Water Quality Certification required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The petitions were consolidated for review.

         For the reasons that follow, we conclude this Court has jurisdiction to hear these petitions, and NJDEP and PADEP did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in issuing the permits. Therefore, we will deny the petitions.

         I. Statutory Background

         Under the Natural Gas Act of 1938, [1] the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has exclusive authority to regulate sales and transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce. Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act grants FERC the power to authorize the construction and operation of interstate transportation facilities.[2] Specifically, no company or person may construct or extend any facilities for the transportation in interstate commerce of natural gas without obtaining a "certificate of public convenience and necessity" from FERC.[3] FERC determines whether a project serves "public convenience and necessity" by reviewing a number of factors, such as the project's impact on competition for the transportation of natural gas, the possibility of overbuilding or subsidization by existing customers, avoidance of unnecessary disruptions to the environment, the applicant's responsibility for unsubscribed capacity, and the avoidance of unnecessary exercise of eminent domain.[4] The issuance of a "certificate of public convenience and necessity" is conditioned on receipt of state and other federal authorizations required for the proposed project.[5]

         Other federal authorizations may be required because interstate sales and transmission of natural gas are further regulated through federal environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)[6] and the Clean Water Act.[7] To comply with NEPA, before issuing a certificate of public convenience or necessity, FERC must examine the potential environmental impact of a proposed pipeline project and issue an Environmental Assessment or, if necessary, an Environmental Impact Statement.[8]

         Although the Natural Gas Act preempts state environmental regulation of interstate natural gas facilities, the Natural Gas Act allows states to participate in environmental regulation of these facilities under three federal statutes: the Clean Air Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Clean Water Act.[9] As relevant here, the Clean Water Act regulates through a combination of state and federal mechanisms: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits the discharge of pollutants into water bodies, [10] and states establish water quality standards, subject to EPA approval, that must at a minimum comply with EPA's limits.[11]

         This combination of state and federal mechanisms is apparent when a proposed activity involves discharge of dredged or fill material into the navigable waters of the United States and thus triggers the permitting requirements of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.[12] Section 404 permits typically are issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; however, a state may assume the authority to administer these permits. Whether or not the state assumes this authority, a Section 404 permit may be issued only if the state where the discharge will occur issues a Water Quality Certification, governed by Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.[13] A Water Quality Certification confirms that a given facility will comply with federal discharge limitations and state water quality standards.[14] Unlike the Section 404 permit, the Water Quality Certification is by default a state permit, and the issuance and review of a Water Quality Certification is typically left to the states.[15]

         New Jersey has assumed authority to issue Section 404 permits and delegated administration of the permitting program to NJDEP, which exercises this authority pursuant to the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.[16]Therefore, for activities that result in discharge of dredged or fill material into New Jersey waters, NJDEP reviews applications for Water Quality Certifications and Section 404 permits. In contrast, Pennsylvania has not assumed Section 404 permitting authority. For activities affecting Pennsylvania waters, Section 404 permits are issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Water Quality Certifications are issued by PADEP.

         II. Administrative Background

         In September 2013, Transco submitted an application to FERC for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the Leidy Southeast Expansion Project. The Project consists of two major types of improvements to existing natural gas pipelines: the construction of four new pipeline "loops" and the upgrade of turbines at four compressor stations. "Loops" are sections of pipe connected to the main pipeline system that reduce the loss of gas pressure and increase the flow efficiency of the system. Compressor stations serve a similar function, using gas- and electric-powered turbines to increase the pressure and rate of flow at given points along the pipeline's route. In its application, Transco proposed installing, within or parallel to existing Transco pipelines, approximately thirty miles of loops. The Skillman Loop and the Pleasant Run Loop, totaling 13.23 miles, would be located in New Jersey; the Franklin Loop and Dorrance Loop, totaling 16.74 miles, would be located in Pennsylvania.

         FERC completed the requisite Environmental Assessment in August 2014, and issued the certificate of public convenience and necessity on December 18, 2014. The certificate was conditioned on, inter alia, Transco's receipt of "all applicable authorizations under federal law"[17]enumerated in the Environmental Assessment, some of which were to be obtained from New Jersey and some from Pennsylvania.

         A. New Jersey

         FERC required Transco to obtain the following authorizations for each loop from NJDEP: a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, a Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit, a Water Quality Certification, and a Letter of Interpretation. Transco first obtained Letters of Interpretation, in which NJDEP sets forth the boundaries of freshwater wetlands and state-regulated transition areas.[18]Transco then applied for the remaining permits. In December 2014, NJDEP deemed those applications "administratively complete, " a status that triggered a public notice and comment process. Two months later, NJDEP held a public hearing in Princeton, New Jersey. In light of comments from NJDEP staff and the public, Transco submitted revised plans. A few days later, NJDEP asked Transco to address additional comments, and Transco provided responses.

         In April, NJDEP issued, for each loop, a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, a Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit, and a Water Quality Certification. In addition, NJDEP released Staff Summary Reports, which set forth the findings and analysis underlying its permitting decisions. Transco began construction on May 6, 2015. Two days later, the Foundation petitioned this Court for review of NJDEP's decision to issue the permits.

         Later in May, while the Foundation's petition was pending, Transco submitted a request to NJDEP for a minor modification to the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit for the Skillman Loop, to change the excavation method for a wetland in Princeton, New Jersey. NJDEP approved the request on June 4, 2015, which the Foundation challenged in its opening brief. Later in June, the Foundation filed an emergency motion for a stay of construction. A week later, we denied the motion. At this time, the New Jersey portion of the project is substantially complete.[19]

         B. Pennsylvania

         FERC required Transco to obtain from PADEP a Water Quality Certification and a Water Obstruction and Encroachment Permit. The latter, issued under Chapter 105 of PADEP's regulations, are referred to as "Chapter 105 Permits." FERC further required Transco to obtain a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Each certificate or permit covered both loops in Pennsylvania.

         Transco applied to PADEP for the Water Quality Certification in June 2014. In the following month, PADEP published notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin that it intended to issue a Water Quality Certification so long as Transco obtained certain other state permits, including a Chapter 105 Permit. In April 2015, PADEP issued a Water Quality Certification for the project. Shortly thereafter, the Riverkeeper filed a petition in this Court specifically challenging the Water Quality Certification. Three months later, PADEP issued a Chapter 105 permit. After receiving all of its required permits, Transco sought permission from FERC to proceed with construction. FERC granted this request in July 2015, during the pendency of the instant matter.

         III. Threshold Challenges

         At the outset, we consider challenges by NJDEP and PADEP regarding this Court's jurisdiction, the justiciability of the petitions, and whether sovereign immunity shields state agency actions. Specifically, NJDEP and PADEP allege that we lack subject matter jurisdiction to review the petitions and that, even if we had jurisdiction, the petitions are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. NJDEP further argues that because construction in New Jersey is substantially complete, the petition is moot.

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         The Riverkeeper and the Foundation, in petitioning this Court for review, invoke a provision of the Natural Gas Act that confers original jurisdiction on Courts of Appeals over certain state and federal permitting actions for interstate natural gas pipelines. Both PADEP and NJDEP contest whether that provision applies. Our jurisdiction ultimately depends on whether PADEP and NJDEP acted "pursuant to Federal law" in issuing permits to Transco.

         We begin with the statute. In 2005, Congress amended the Natural Gas Act to subject certain state and federal permitting decisions for interstate natural gas pipeline projects to review by the federal Courts of Appeals.[20] Specifically, under Section 19(d) of the Natural Gas Act, the Courts of Appeals have jurisdiction to review actions undertaken (1) by a State administrative agency; (2) pursuant to federal law; (3) to issue, condition, or deny a permit, license, concurrence, or approval; (4) required for an interstate natural gas facility permitted under the Natural Gas Act; (5) that is located in the jurisdiction of the circuit Court of review.[21] The parties do not dispute that all elements are met except whether NJDEP and PADEP acted "pursuant to Federal law" in issuing Water Quality Certifications, permits, and Letters of Interpretation.

         NJDEP and PADEP contend that their decisions to issue Water Quality Certifications are not covered by the provision that grants jurisdiction to this Court and, consequently, we lack jurisdiction to hear these petitions. NJDEP further contests our jurisdiction to review those authorizations that "exclusively involv[e] issues of State law, " including the Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits, the Letters of Interpretation, and those portions of the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits that address state-regulated issues such as transition areas or state threatened and endangered species. For the following reasons, we hold that we have jurisdiction over these petitions.

         B. Jurisdiction over Water Quality Certifications

         1. Permits Issued by PADEP

         PADEP argues that this Court does not have jurisdiction over Water Quality Certifications because our jurisdiction under the Natural Gas Act extends only to state agency action taken pursuant to federal law, whereas a Water Quality Certification is required by federal law. This argument does not pass muster. Although the Clean Water Act makes clear that states have the right to promulgate water quality standards as they see fit, subject to EPA oversight, the issuance of a Water Quality Certification is not purely a matter of state law.[22] A state issues a Water Quality Certification for an interstate natural gas facility to certify compliance with state water quality standards, promulgated under federal supervision, as well as with federally-established Clean Water Act requirements.[23] Specifically, a Water Quality Certification confirms compliance with Sections 301, 306, and 307 of the Clean Water Act, all of which involve federal standards.[24] Thus, a Water Quality Certification is not merely required by federal law: it cannot exist without federal law, and is an integral element in the regulatory scheme established by the Clean Water Act. To say otherwise would be to ignore the EPA's supervisory role in the setting of state water quality standards, the fact that Water Quality Certifications must verify compliance with federal standards, and the role of the federal government in regulating water quality as envisioned by drafters of the Clean Water Act.[25]

         The conclusion that a Water Quality Certification is issued pursuant to federal law is bolstered by the Natural Gas Act's provisions that allow states to regulate or subject state action to federal judicial review. The Natural Gas Act preempts state environmental regulation of interstate natural gas facilities, except for state action taken under those statutes specifically mentioned in the Act: the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.[26] In other words, the only state action over interstate natural gas pipeline facilities that could be taken pursuant to federal law is state action taken under those statutes. In another provision, Section 19(d), the Natural Gas Act grants jurisdiction to the Courts of Appeals to review state agency action taken pursuant to federal law except for the Coastal Zone Management Act.[27] Applying the statutory construction canon, the express mention of one thing excludes all others, the express exception of the Coastal Zone Management Act from review by the Court of Appeals indicates that Congress intended state actions taken pursuant to the two non-excepted statutes, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, to be subject to review by the Courts of Appeals. This interpretation is supported by the legislative history of the bill amending Section 19(d), which indicates that the purpose of the provision is to streamline the review of state decisions taken under federally-delegated authority.[28] Thus, a state action taken pursuant to the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act is subject to review exclusively in the Courts of Appeals. To bar this Court's review of PADEP's actions in permitting an interstate natural gas facility pursuant to the Natural Gas Act and the Clean Water Act would frustrate the purpose of Congress's grant of jurisdiction and render superfluous the explicit exception from federal judicial review of the Coastal Zone Management Act.

         2. Permits Issued by NJDEP

         NJDEP argues we have no jurisdiction over the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits or the Water Quality Certifications, and even if we had jurisdiction over those two authorizations, we cannot reach issues regarding aspects of the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits that concern transition areas and threatened and endangered species, the Letters of Interpretation, or the Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits. We consider each authorization in turn, and conclude that each is rooted in NJDEP's exercise of authority that it assumed pursuant to Sections 401 and 404 of the Clean Water Act.

         First, with respect to NJDEP's argument that we lack jurisdiction over the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits and the Water Quality Certifications, New Jersey's Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act provides for the state's administration of Section 404 permits, and its implementing regulations make clear a permit issued under the Act, called the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, "constitutes" the Water Quality Certification.[29] Given that the Natural Gas Act provides this Court with jurisdiction to review state authorizations issued pursuant to the Clean Water Act, this Court has jurisdiction over the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits and the Water Quality Certifications.

         Next, NJDEP argues that those portions of the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit that address state threatened and endangered species are governed by state law rather than the Clean Water Act, and thus are not subject to our review. A Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit may be issued only if the regulated activity "[w]ill not destroy, jeopardize[, ] or adversely modify a present or documented habitat for threatened or endangered species . . . ."[30] In issuing the permits, NJDEP imposed conditions on the proposed activity for the protection of state threatened and endangered species. Given that the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit constitutes both the Section 404 permit and the Water Quality Certification, and that, under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, "any other appropriate requirement of state law set forth in [the] certification" will be treated as a condition on the federal permit affected by the certification- in this case, the Section 404 permit[31]-the conditions that protect threatened and endangered species are part of the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, and we have jurisdiction to review these conditions.

         Under similar reasoning, we have jurisdiction over the Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits. The Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act requires compliance with the Flood Hazard Act.[32] Accordingly, Transco applied for and obtained Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits, which enumerate conditions on activities in flood hazard areas to protect water quality. The Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit is, in effect, a set of conditions on the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit. Given that we have jurisdiction over the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, we have jurisdiction over the Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit as conditions set forth in the Water Quality Certification.

         Likewise, the Letters of Interpretation are part and parcel of the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits, and thus subject to this Court's review. New Jersey regulations require an applicant for a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit to submit the Letter of Interpretation as part of the application package if a Letter has been issued, or "[i]f the applicant applies for [a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit] without first obtaining [a Letter of Interpretation], the permit application must include all information that would be necessary for the Department to issue [a Letter of Interpretation] for the site . . . . The Department will then review the submitted wetland delineation as part of the permit review process."[33] In other words, a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit application must include either an issued Letter of Interpretation or all the materials required for NJDEP to issue such a Letter. Therefore, the Letters of Interpretation are integral to the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit application and the review process of the permit, and thus subject to our review.

         B. Mootness

         We next consider NJDEP and Transco's argument that the petition for review is moot because construction is complete and Transco has been conducting mitigation and restoration. Thus, any procedural remedy would be ineffectual. The Foundation argues the petition is not moot because we can provide relief in the form of additional analysis of environmental impact and measures to address those effects.

         Mootness raises both constitutional and prudential concerns.[34] Under Article III, "[i]t is a basic principle . . . that a justiciable case or controversy must remain extant at all stages of review . . . ."[35] Prudentially, a court may decline to exercise discretion to grant declaratory and injunctive relief if a controversy is "so attenuated" that considerations of prudence and comity counsel withholding relief.[36] The central question in a mootness analysis is "whether changes in circumstances that prevailed at the beginning of the litigation have forestalled any occasion for meaningful relief."[37] A case becomes moot "only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party."[38] When a court can fashion "some form of meaningful relief" or "impose at least one of the remedies enumerated by the appellant, " even if it only partially redresses the grievances of the prevailing party, the case is not moot.[39] The Foundation challenges NJDEP's conclusions regarding the proposed pipeline's environmental impact and the amount of mitigation required.

         This case is not moot because NJDEP may monitor mitigation outcomes following completion of mitigation. Specifically, pursuant to New Jersey regulation and as set forth in the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits and the Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits, Transco must submit annual reports to NJDEP for three years after completing mitigation, and NJDEP may monitor the progress of remedial actions. If mitigation has not met the requirements in the regulations, NJDEP may direct Transco to perform additional mitigation or other remedial action.[40] Therefore, there remains possible effectual relief because further environmental analysis might lead NJDEP to require additional mitigation from Transco. Thus, we conclude that this petition is not moot.[41]

         C. Sovereign Immunity

         NJDEP and PADEP contend that any challenge brought under Section 19(d) is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. With respect to the Water Quality Certifications and Section 404 permits, NJDEP and PADEP argue that their mere participation in the Clean Water Act permitting process does not waive their sovereign immunity provided by the Eleventh Amendment. NJDEP further argues that when it assumed authority to administer Section 404, it explicitly reserved its sovereign immunity for Section 404 actions through a Memorandum of Agreement with the EPA. Therefore, according to NJDEP, sovereign immunity bars this Court from reviewing the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits, Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits, and Letters of Interpretation. These arguments are unavailing. As discussed below, we hold that New Jersey and Pennsylvania's voluntary participation in the regulatory schemes of the Natural Gas Act and the Clean Water Act constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity, given the clear language in those statutes subjecting their actions to federal review.

         1. Overview

         The Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution states that federal courts may not hear "any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State . . . ." [42] Courts have interpreted the amendment as applying to suits against states by their own citizens as well, [43] and have extended the immunity to state agencies.[44] The immunity from suit is not absolute; Congress has limited power to abrogate the states' immunity.[45]

         A state may waive its immunity by engaging in conduct that demonstrates the state's consent to suit in federal court.[46] A state may consent to suit in federal court by accepting a gift or gratuity from Congress when waiver of sovereign immunity is a condition of acceptance.[47] When Congress makes a gift to a state that Congress is not obligated to make and which the state cannot claim as a matter of right, Congress may attach conditions to this gift, including a waiver of sovereign immunity.[48] These "gifts" need not only be monetary awards; a congressional grant of regulatory authority that a state may not otherwise possess is also a gift. We addressed the theory of "gratuity waiver" as applied to a grant of regulatory authority in MCI Telecommunications Corporation v. Bell Atlantic Pennsylvania, where Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission argued that a section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, [49] which provides for federal court review of state-approved interconnection agreements, violated the agency's Eleventh Amendment immunity.[50] We held that Congress had made federal judicial review a necessary condition of state participation in regulation of telecommunications. A state's participation in the regulatory scheme constituted acceptance of the gift, and, thus, a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity.[51] Nevertheless, mere acquiescence is insufficient to abrogate sovereign immunity. A state's gratuity waiver must be knowing and voluntary.[52] In other words, Congress must make its intention to condition acceptance of a gratuity on the waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity "unmistakably clear."[53]

         2. Sovereign Immunity and Section 19(d)

         Here, the application of the gratuity waiver doctrine is consistent with precedent of our sister courts and supported by the language of Section 19(d) of the Natural Gas Act. In Islander East Pipeline Company v. Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, [54] the Second Circuit recognized that the Natural Gas Act strips states of any authority to regulate a particular field-in this case, interstate natural gas transmission facilities-save certain "rights of the states" granted under those three enumerated statutes, one of which is the Clean Water Act.[55] Consistent with this doctrine, a state participates in Clean Water Act regulation of interstate natural gas facilities by congressional permission, rather than through inherent state authority.[56] A state may refuse the grant of authority: under the Clean Water Act, a state's non-participation in water quality regulation returns authority to the EPA. A state also may decline to exercise its authority to issue an applicant a Water Quality Certification, and in so doing waive the requirement for a Water Quality Certification, and the proposed activity proceeds without a Water Quality Certification.[57] In the context of an interstate natural gas facility, a state's refusal to issue a Water Quality Certification would waive the need for the facility to obtain a Certification in order to satisfy conditions of FERC's certificate of public convenience and necessity. In effect, such a refusal would return the state's delegated authority to enforce Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to FERC with respect to the project.[58] Therefore, state participation in the regulatory schemes of the Clean Water Act and under the framework of the Natural Gas Act constitutes a gratuity waiver.

         We agree with the Islander court that the principle of gratuity waiver applies to the regulatory scheme established by the Natural Gas Act. Section 19(d) grants the Courts of Appeals jurisdiction to review "state agency action." This language is unambiguous. New Jersey and Pennsylvania's participation in the regulatory scheme of the Clean Water Act with respect to interstate natural gas facilities, pursuant to the Natural Gas Act and after the amendment of Section 19(d), constitutes a waiver of their immunity from suits brought under the Natural Gas Act. In effect, Section 19(d) creates a small carve out from sovereign immunity. Under this limited carve out, federal judicial review is proper over those state actions regarding interstate natural gas facilities pursuant to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

         For these reasons, we have jurisdiction over the petitions. We therefore turn to the merits of these petitions.

         IV. Merits Challenges

         A. Standard of Review

         The standard of review of state action pursuant to the Clean Water Act for an interstate natural gas facility is a matter of first impression for this Court. Consistent with our precedent in MCI, which dealt with a similar regulatory arrangement, we review de novo state agency interpretation of federal law, and review under the arbitrary and capricious standard state action taken pursuant to federal law.[59] Agency action is arbitrary and capricious when the agency fails to "examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made."[60] When we review an agency action under this standard, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) directs us to take account of "the rule of prejudicial error."[61] In other words, we apply a "harmless error" analysis to any administrative action we review;[62] mistakes that have no bearing on the substantive decision of an agency do not prejudice a party.[63]The party challenging the agency determination bears the burden of demonstrating prejudice.[64] Where an agency errs in fact finding, we remand only if the agency relied on the erroneous finding in its decision.[65]

         B. New Jersey

         The Foundation alleges four general problems with NJDEP's issuance of the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits, the Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits, the Water Quality Certifications, and the Letters of Interpretation: (1) NJDEP deprived the Foundation of sufficient opportunity to comment, (2) NJDEP issued the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits based on unsupported conclusions, (3) NJDEP erred in determining that Transco met the requirements for the Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits and hardship exceptions for those permits, and (4) NJDEP misconstrued regulation in granting a minor modification for the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit of the Skillman Loop. We address each in turn and conclude that NJDEP did not act arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to the first three alleged errors. We hold that the fourth challenge is not properly before this Court.

         1. Opportunity for Public Comment

         State regulations require NJDEP, after determining an application to be administratively complete, to publish a notice of the application in the DEP Bulletin, make the application available at its offices in Trenton, and, in some circumstances, hold a public hearing.[66] The public may comment on the application within 30 days of the notice.[67]The Department "shall consider all written public comments submitted within this time" and "may, in its discretion, consider comments submitted after this date[, ]" although state regulations do not define "consider."[68] The Foundation alleges that NJDEP committed two errors that deprived the Foundation of the opportunity to comment on Transco's application. First, the Foundation argues that NJDEP prematurely determined that Transco's application was "administratively complete, " a designation that triggers the public notice and comment process, even though Transco had failed to include a required element of the application. Second, the Foundation argues that NJDEP failed to provide proper notice to the public of Transco's application because NJDEP's initial notice of Transco's application in the DEP bulletin cited only Hunterdon County as the project location and omitted three other affected counties-Somerset, Princeton, and Mercer.

         Although the Foundation argues that it was deprived of an opportunity to comment on the revisions because Transco submitted the revised analysis after the close of the public comment period, the Foundation reviewed the revised analysis and submitted additional written comments from its members and two drilling experts and had a face-to-face meeting with NJDEP to express its continued concern with the proposal. The record shows that NJDEP asked Transco to respond to the concerns raised. A party challenging the sufficiency of the public comment process bears the burden of showing it was prejudiced by the lack of opportunity to comment.[69] The fact that NJDEP ultimately did not adopt the Foundation's view does not mean that the Foundation lacked the opportunity to put forth that view.[70]

         Similarly, petitioners were not harmed by the omission of three counties from the initial notice because Princeton Ridge Coalition and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association-both located in the initially omitted counties- were aware of the proposal well before the offending initial notice was published. As early as 2013, both had met with NJDEP and Transco regarding the proposed project and provided written comments. Therefore, the Foundation has failed to demonstrate that it was deprived of the opportunity to comment. For that reason, NJDEP's actions were not arbitrary or capricious.

         2. Agency Analysis on Environmental Impact of Proposal

         New Jersey regulations require NJDEP to analyze the environmental impact of the proposed activity, such as the activity's potential effect on water quality, the aquatic ecosystem, and threatened and endangered animals. The Foundation alleges NJDEP acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner because NJDEP (1) failed to adequately analyze alternatives to the proposed activity that would be less environmentally-adverse or result in the minimum feasible impairment of the aquatic ecosystem, (2) defined the project purpose in such a narrow manner as to exclude potential alternatives to the proposed activity, (3) improperly concluded that the proposed activity in connection with the Skillman Loop will not harm threatened or endangered species or their habitats, and (4) improperly determined that the proposal is in the public interest.

         a.Consideration of ...


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