Court rejects greens’ challenge to natural gas export facility

Court rejects greens’ challenge to natural gas export facility
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A federal appeals court Friday rejected environmentalists’ challenge to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility under construction in Maryland.

The decision from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the third time in recent weeks that the court has rejected greens’ arguments against an LNG export site.

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The green groups, led by Patuxent Riverkeeper, argued that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly consider the environmental impacts of the Dominion Cove Point project in eastern Maryland.

In particular, the greens said FERC should have considered the impacts of increased production and consumption of natural gas, like climate change and the effects of hydraulic fracturing.

The same court rejected those arguments last month when the Sierra Club applied them to two other natural gas export facilities.

The court ruled in those cases that since the Department of Energy is responsible for approving gas export applications, and FERC is only tasked with approving the facilities, the Department of Energy is the body responsible for evaluating the impact of exports.

“Petitioners’ contentions regarding the indirect effect of increased exports on upstream natural gas production resemble those rejected in Sierra Club (Freeport) and Sierra Club (Sabine Pass),” the court said, citing its cases from June.

“And while those cases did not address whether NEPA reaches the effects of emissions arising from the transport and consumption of exported natural gas, this indirect effect similarly ‘cannot occur unless a greater volume of [LNG] is shipped from [Cove Point] and enters the international marketplace,’” the judges wrote.

Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice who represented the greens in the case decided Friday, disagreed with the ruling.

“We don’t think this makes any sense under NEPA,” she said. “It certainly isn’t what either agency intended.”

The environmental coalition involved in all three cases has already sued the Department of Energy for all three export sites.

Goldberg predicted that the Department of Energy could be in trouble in those cases, since the court implied that the department was responsible for evaluating far more than it actually did.