What does FERC’s recent defeat by Sierra Club mean for Sabal Trail and the future of pipelines in the U.S.? Suwannee Riverkeeper John Quarterman’s compilation following is the best analysis you will find. OSFR Advisor Merrilee Malwitz-Jipson is the featured quote from the Gainesville Sun.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
So get on with deploying solar power, which costs less than any other power source.
“FPL has been working to phase out three coal-burning plants in Florida, but the Sierra Club’s actions would jeopardize these plans,” McDermitt said.
Oh, come on, FPL, you’re not even trying! We established a year ago that you already “modernized” those three coal plants without Sabal Trail.
Unlike most states, Florida has access to only two other major natural gas pipeline systems, McDermitt said.
And SeekingAlpha determined shortly after Sabal Trail started shipping gas that what goes into Sabal Trail is being taken away from FGT and Gulfstream, so there was never a need for a third pipeline, even to burn fracked methane.
You know what Florida has access to more than almost all other states? Sunshine for solar power! Which even you, FPL, admitted a year ago “is now significantly influencing FPL’s resource planning.”
In 2016 more new U.S. electricity came from solar power than any other source; more than wind; more than natural gas. The solar industry already employs more people in electricity generation than coal, oil, and gas combined, and is creating new jobs a dozen times faster than the economy on average. Here’s more about how solar has already won the economic race.
With both of its two major natural gas pipelines near capacity, Florida is at risk of having demand outstrip supply, according to Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida, which have committed to buying nearly all the gas the project can transport.
FPL admitted in its 2016 Ten Year Plan that there is no demand for new electricty in Florida until 2024 at the earliest.
The project’s developers — Duke Energy, FP&L parent NextEra Energy, Spectra Energy Partners and the Williams Companies — said increased gas supplies will allow utilities to retire old coal-fired power plants, thus providing a net reduction in GHG emissions.
See comments on previous story above about how FPL already did that before Sabal Trail. Want to shut down more coal plants, and start shutting down natural gas power plants? Get on with deploying solar power, FPL.
The American Petroleum Institute, which absorbed America’s Natural Gas Alliance in 2015, said it believes FERC acted properly and is evaluating the ruling. “Regulatory certainty is critical to ensuring that infrastructure is constructed efficiently. Further delays due to needless regulatory hurdles will slow consumer access to reliable, affordable natural gas and opportunities for job creation,” it said.
So easily spooked, API? Maybe you’ve heard the solar industry already employs more people in electricity production than coal, oil, and gas combined, and is creating new jobs a dozen times faster than other industries? Want to speed job creation? Cancel all new pipelines and get on with solar power.
The Natural Gas Supply Association, which represents 14 large gas producers and marketers, said it was “disappointed” by the order but had no other immediate comment.
The rest of us are disappointed in FERC, and now a court has finally done something about it.
Utilities have touted natural-gas plants as producing fewer carbon emissions than coal-fired plants. But Tuesday’s majority opinion said the prospect of burning natural gas instead of dirtier coal doesn’t absolve FERC from looking at emissions that would result from the pipeline delivering gas to power plants.
“In other words, when an agency thinks the good consequences of a project will outweigh the bad, the agency still needs to discuss both the good and the bad,” Griffith wrote. “In any case, the EIS itself acknowledges that only `portions’ of the pipelines’ capacity will be employed to reduce coal consumption. An agency decisionmaker reviewing this EIS would thus have no way of knowing whether total emissions, on net, will be reduced or increased by this project, or what the degree of reduction or increase will be. In this respect, then, the EIS fails to fulfill its primary purpose.”
Deidre Duncan, a partner at Hunton & Williams who represents a number of pipeline companies, said the ruling could foretell “significant” changes to regulators’ permitting duties, forcing regulators to look more broadly at proposed projects before approving them.
“If not changed on rehearing or ultimately by the Supreme Court, this case has broad implications for multiple industries and agencies in various contexts,” she said.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey-branch of the Sierra Club, one of the more aggressive in going after FERC, said the lawsuit was a “huge win” for the group because “it is the first time the court ruled in our favor on an environmental analysis,” agreeing with it on the grounds that climate impacts should have been included in the FERC analysis….
The court said climate impacts and alternatives must be evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act, Tittel said, which will drive their opposition to other pipeline projects along the East Coast that FERC is looking to approve.
“This will be precedent for pipelines like PennEast and may help stop FERC from rubberstamping the pipeline,” he said. The PennEast Line goes through New Jersey to transport natural gas from the fracking state of Pennsylvania to the Northeast, which historically has suffered from a lack of pipeline infrastructure.
Suffered? New Jersey has already deployed more solar power than Florida, so northeast suffering from too many pipelines is already approaching an end. And end that may be hastened by this ‘huge’ victory.
The case was one in a slew of cases that the Sierra Club and others have brought against FERC, challenging the agency’s environmental analyses. Challenges to FERC’s failure to examine the greenhouse gas emissions related to natural gas export facilities failed when the court ruled that export terminals were the purview of the Department of Energy. At least three cases against the Department of Energy’s permits are awaiting either hearings or decisions.
But this is the first case to successfully challenge FERC’s greenhouse gas emissions analysis — and it could have repercussions up and down the East Coast. There are currently hundreds of miles of proposed pipeline on FERC’s docket or under construction, including the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and the Rover Pipeline. Since the Marcellus shale boom in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, natural gas developers have been seeking ways to move the gas to population hubs from Massachusetts to Florida.
Remember, Atlantic Sunrise is a feeder pipeline for Sabal Trail all the way to Miami and Jacksonville via half a dozen LNG export operations. It would be so sad for that Pennsylvania pipeline to go down with Sabal Trail.
FERC a few weeks ago released the final environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a review which was considered a positive step toward the project’s final approval by Dominion Energy.
Dominion has maintained that the environmental review for the pipeline has been incredibly “thorough and exhaustive,” taking “unprecedented steps to protect environmental resources and minimize impacts on landowners.”
FERC swore in two new members on Aug. 10 and has a quorum again for the first time in the last six months. The agency can now vote to approve the pipeline at any time.
Yeah, FPL and Spectra Energy maintained that, too. And can FERC approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline now without redoing its EIS? We shall see.
FERC will now be required to undertake a new environmental impact statement for the Southeast Market Pipeline Project. SELC calls on FERC to do the same for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.
“This decision further highlights the fact that FERC must go back and revise its draft EIS of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney, Greg Buppert. “This ruling now makes it clear that FERC cannot simply state that it cannot know the level of greenhouse gas emission of the ACP, or any other pipeline, and simply move on.”
“My assumption is that this decision will be appealed, either for an en banc rehearing or to the Supreme Court,” said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “FERC has long maintained that this is not its responsibility, including during the Obama administration.”
“Given the split decision an appeal seems almost inevitable,” he added. “So its long-term effects are uncertain.”…
“FERC provided this litany of excuses for why it couldn’t really take a meaningful look at those greenhouse gas and climate impacts, and today the D.C. Circuit rejected those excuses,” Benson said….
“It’s huge because this is an argument that’s going to be repeated in many different contexts,” he [James Coleman, a Southern Methodist University law professor who has researched the government’s obligations to consider climate impacts] said. “People are going to make it for new oil pipelines and for every natural gas decision.”…
ClearView Energy Partners analyst Christi Tezak said the D.C. Circuit’s decision to vacate FERC’s approval of the project on NEPA grounds may be a first. But, she noted, the court has not yet issued its mandate. FERC now has the opportunity to seek rehearing and, if necessary, Supreme Court review.
“Therefore, while potential suspension of operations on Sabal Trail and the balance of the Southeast Market pipelines is possible, it is not yet a reality,” she wrote in a memo last night.
Possible is a big deal: it takes away that “regulatory certainty” (of a rubberstamp) that API craves so much. It spooks pipeline developers. Even more, it spooks their investors.
- While some experts say the ruling means little more than more paperwork for regulators, others believe it could change the way the U.S. government decides which issues to examine in environmental impact studies required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Merrille[e] Malwitz-Jipson, an organizer with the Sierra Club, said the ruling sets a precedent for the protection of the environment moving forward.
“Just because (the pipeline) is on, we know it’s not over until we pull that thing out of the ground,” she said.
While the pipeline’s owners say they are still reviewing the court’s decision, Florida Sierra Club representative Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson says the court’s position matters to people who live in the affected area.
“This type of outcome shows them that they do have a voice, that they do matter and people do matter,” she said. “Corporations think they can do whatever they want to people on the ground, but the reality is the citizens do matter and do count.”
We spoke with one vocal opponent of the pipeline, Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta, who thinks the ruling could impact the construction of a compressor station, a massive natural gas pump that is planned for construction in Dougherty County in 2020.
A spokesperson for Sabal said they don’t think the ruling will have “an adverse effect on Sabal Trail’s operations at this time.”
Georgia ecological groups like the Flint Riverkeeper are saying the decision is a win for them.
“In terms of what this means for the life of this pipeline and whether or not it will be allowed to continue to operate, that’s an open question. This is not a bad thing, it’s a court victory,” said Gordon Rogers with the Flint RiverKeepers.
Rogers said the group should have a clearer picture of what the vote means in the next several weeks.
John Quarterman, a member of the WWALS Watershed Coalition, an organization opposed to the pipeline, said the decision will lead to FERC performing another environmental study but might also create a powerful precedent.
The precedent could mean FERC has to consider greenhouse gases for all pipeline proposals in the future. Quarterman said it could mean energy generators such as solar and wind that don’t produce greenhouse gases would be more heavily favored instead of fossil fuels.
“This is wind in our sails and could be the end of Sabal Trail,” Quarterman said.
There are things you can do to stop pipelines.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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