Court rebukes Sabal Trail in pivotal case, may shut it down next week 2018-02-01

Yesterday FERC rubberstamped Sabal Trail’s five-month construction delay, but that same day the DC Circuit Court rejected all arguments by FERC and the pipeline company, and could mandate vacating the pipeline’s permit next week. Meanwhile, Sabal Trail already has been shut down, shipping mostly zero gas since mid-November, when it apparently lost one of its only two customers.

According to an industry publication the case by Sierra Club, Flint Riverkeeper, and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is “the strongest legal rebuke of FERC’s oversight since the rush to build out natural gas pipelines began several years ago” and “a pivotal moment in the evolution of pipeline opposition and broader climate accountability.”

How much delay, lack of gas, loss of customers, and legal setback does it take for a pipeline’s financial backers to pull the plug? Reject, shut off, and revoke. Then go solar, like even Duke Energy is doing in Florida, starting with Hamilton County!

En banc rehearing, Orders
D.C. Circuit Court January 31, 2018, order denying petition for rehearing en banc.

Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News, 1 February 2018, D.C. Circuit ruling could shut down pipeline,

The battle over the Sabal Trail pipeline represents a pivotal moment in the evolution of pipeline opposition and broader climate accountability.

Before that, she wrote:

…The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit yesterday refused to revisit its 2017 ruling that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should have taken a closer look at climate impacts from the Sabal Trail pipeline.

As soon as the court issues a formal mandate finalizing the decision, Sabal Trail’s federal certificates will be void, and operations will come to a halt. The D.C. Circuit is expected to issue the mandate next week.

It’s unclear, however, what FERC and pipeline backers could do to attempt to stall the process, and it’s possible any interruption in pipeline operations would be short-lived.

Still, the court’s decision is the strongest legal rebuke of FERC’s oversight since the rush to build out natural gas pipelines began several years ago.

The story reviews the history of the historic Sierra Club win over FERC and Sabal Trail then continues:

Government lawyers last fall asked the court to rethink one aspect of the decision: the remedy. FERC was willing to conduct the added review but wanted the court to leave the pipeline certificate intact during the process. Sabal Trail backers also asked for rehearing.

In a pair of decisions yesterday, a two-judge panel rejected the requests, and the full slate of active judges on the court refused to get involved. The court did not issue opinions explaining the orders.

D.C. Circuit mandates, which give force to rulings, typically are issued seven days after the court handles rehearing requests. That means Sabal Trail’s certificates could be void next week, barring successful legal maneuvering by FERC or developers.

So the Court could shut down Sabal Trail next week.

The article includes speculation by various people that FERC could just issue another permit, but that could take thirty days as required by the federal Council on Environmental Quality, or FERC could appeal to the Supreme Court.

No matter the defendants do, the whole pipeline industry and its pet lapdog FERC have been soundly rebuked, and their aura of inevitability is shattered. No pipeline is ever a done deal again.

Recent: 2017-11-01 – 2018-02-01, Graphs

The reporter seems unaware Sabal Trail has already been shut down most of the time since mid-November, when it apparently lost Duke Energy Florida as a customer.

Recent: 2017-11-01 - 2018-02-01, Graphs
Graphs by WWALS using data from Sabal Trail’s FERC-required informational postings.

Sabal Trail is back up to 26,000 Dekatherms/day today, but that’s less than 4% of the the 797,000 DTH/day it posts as operational capacity.

Month: 2018-01-01 - 2018-02-01, Graphs
Month: 2018-01-01 – 2018-02-01, Graphs

All: 2017-06-14 - 2018-02-01, Graphs
All: 2017-06-14 – 2018-02-01, Graphs

FERC rubberstamp of Sabal Trail five-month extension

There’s really only one sentence worth quoting from FERC Accession Number 20180131-3033, 31 January 2018, “Letter order granting Sabal Trail Transmission LLC’s request for an extension of time to complete all three phases of construction re the Sabal Trail Project under CP15-17.”

Based on the statements in the January 26, 2018, request, Sabal Trail is hereby granted the requested extensions of time to complete all phases of the authorized activities as approved in the above referenced docket.

Rubberstamp. And without saying anything about LNG export, losing 3/7 of its committed customer base, etc. It’s time for a court to stop the rogue agency FERC.

Rehearings denied

FERC and Sabal Trail’s various partners asked for a rehearing by the same judges, or a rehearing en banc by all the judges. The judges slapped down both, once sentence each, with no explanation, as in the defendants’ arguments didn’t seem worthy of discussion.

Rehearing denied

Rogers and Griffith, two of the judges who issued the original decision back in August, issued an order (see PDF) that the various motions including for a rehearing by Duke Energy Florida, against by Sierra Club, and for by Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, be filed, and:

FURTHER ORDERED that the petitions for rehearing be denied.

Rehearing en banc denied

Eleven Circuit Judges, apparently all of the ones in the DC Circuit (except one), issued an order (see PDF) that the petition by Duke Energy Florida et al. for a rehearing en banc and the opposition by Sierra Club be filed, and

FURTHER ORDERED that the petition for rehearing en banc be denied.

Next week we’ll know more. Meanwhile, this is a victory.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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3 thoughts on “Court rebukes Sabal Trail in pivotal case, may shut it down next week 2018-02-01

  1. Terre Tulsiak

    Occasionally, the wheels of justice turn in the right direction. I am grateful and humbled by the work done by so many on behalf of us all.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: FPL parent NextEra Energy admits solar and wind far better investments than pipelines 2018-01-26 | On the LAKE front

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