Court rejects greens’ challenges to natural gas exports

Court rejects greens’ challenges to natural gas exports

A federal appeals court rejected environmentalists’ challenges to two liquefied natural gas export projects.

The Sierra Club and its allies faulted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) decisions to approve projects in Texas and Louisiana.

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They said FERC’s environmental reviews failed to account for the impacts of increased natural gas drilling and the cumulative impacts of multiple natural gas export facilities.

But the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed, saying FERC’s environmental reviews didn’t have to account for those factors.

“The commission’s NEPA analysis did not have to address the indirect effects of the anticipated export of natural gas,” the court wrote in its Tuesday decision regarding the Freeport LNG project in Texas. “That is because the Department of Energy, not the commission, has sole authority to license the export of any natural gas going through the Freeport facilities.”

It used similar reasoning in the case regarding the Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana.

The court’s argument stems from the fact that while FERC is responsible for approving the facilities themselves, the Energy Department has the separate task of considering applications to export natural gas. Therefore, any impacts from exports, like increased gas drilling and increased pollution, are the department's responsibility.

The groups are also suing the Energy Department for its export approvals for the facilities, which the court hinted could turn out differently.

The Sierra Club said the ruling is a big loss for the environment.

“This disappointing decision fails to address the significant environmental harms of increased gas exports, and is not the end of the road in this fight,” said Lena Moffitt, head of the group’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign.

“There continues to be a groundswell of grassroots efforts adamant in stopping the extraction, burning and export of gas, and neither their efforts nor our legal efforts to block these dirty, dangerous projects will stop as result of today’s decisions,” she said.

The case is part of a multi-pronged attack from greens on gas exports. The idea of gas exports has picked up steam in recent years as a way to help United States allies while giving a bigger market to the domestic gas industry.

But greens say the Obama administration has been far too lax with its approvals to export, without properly considering the environmental impacts.

Only one gas export facility is currently operating in the contiguous United States. The Sabine Pass terminal, the subject of one of the Sierra Club’s lawsuits, started exporting earlier this year.