In late August, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of a Southeastern natural gas pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Court found that FERC failed to quantify the climate impacts that would result from burning the natural gas that the Sabal Trail pipeline would deliver to power plants in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
According to the Court, FERC’s environmental impact statement (required under NEPA) for the project “should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so… As we have noted, greenhouse-gas emissions are an indirect effect of authorizing this project, which FERC could reasonably foresee, and which the agency has legal authority to mitigate.”
The Court reasoned that quantifying greenhouse gas pollution from pipeline projects would enable FERC to compare potential emissions to other projects and to the total emissions from the state, region, and nation for emissions-control goals. This information is essential for ‘informed decision making’ and ‘informed public comment,’ according to the Court.
“The D.C. Circuit’s decision is long overdue – for too long FERC has rubberstamped project after project from the natural gas industry without fully considering the significant climate change impacts that these projects will cause. This is the first case in a line of cases to successfully challenge FERC’s lack of consideration for increased greenhouse gas emissions that result from major projects like this pipeline,” said Waterkeepers Chesapeake’s Executive Director, Betsy Nicholas.
For years, environmental organizations have argued that FERC must consider climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emissions when reviewing major projects, like the Sabal Trail pipeline.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Earthjustice, and other environmental groups led one of the more recent challenges against FERC for failing to consider potential climate change impacts that would result from increased fracking due to the construction and operation of a fracked gas export facility in southern Maryland. Dominion Energy’s Cove Point facility is poised to cause more greenhouse gas pollution than all of Maryland’s coal-fired power plants combined. While, the Court ultimately found that FERC was not required to consider ‘indirect effects’ like increased fracking and associated climate impacts in its approval of the facility – this case was important in that it introduced the Court to the potential impacts that arise from fossil fuels infrastructure.