Court rejects greens’ challenge to Texas natural gas export project

Court rejects greens’ challenge to Texas natural gas export project

A federal court has rejected a challenge to a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Texas.

In its Tuesday decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Energy (DOE) conducted the necessary environmental and economic reviews before it approved the Freeport LNG export terminal project.

The Sierra Club had challenged DOE’s review of the project, saying the agency didn’t comply with federal environmental laws before approving the Freeport terminal in 2014, and that its determination that the terminal is in the “public interest” was flawed.

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But the court batted down both contentions on Tuesday, ruling DOE followed procedures outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved the project. The court rejected the Sierra Club’s argument that DOE should have considered indirect environmental impacts of increasing LNG exports.

“Under our limited and deferential review, we cannot say that the Department failed to fulfill its obligations under NEPA by declining to make specific projections about environmental impacts stemming from specific levels of export-induced gas production,” the court determined in an opinion written by Judge Robert Wilkins, an Obama-appointee.

The court also ruled that DOE’s determination that the project is in the public interest properly considered domestic economic impacts, foreign policy goals and energy security measures. All non-free-trade agreement exports are required to attain a public interest determination.

In a statement, the Sierra Club said it was “disappointed with the court's refusal to require DOE to use available tools to inform communities of the impact of this additional fracking prior to approving exports."

“This LNG export approval creates unnecessary risks for the people of Freeport, Texas, and for every community that is saddled with fracking rigs next to their homes, schools and public spaces,” Nathan Matthews, a Sierra Club staff attorney, said.

Tuesday’s decision is the latest development in a lengthy legal fight over the Freeport terminal, which is due to come online next year, and other natural gas export facilities.

The D.C. Circuit had previously rejected environmentalists’ complaints over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval decisions for the Freeport project and another terminal in Louisiana.

—Updated at 11:42 a.m.