EPA chooses to believe Sabal Trail’s intent over Sierra Club and WWALS warnings

It looks awful strange when EPA chooses to name and believe Florida Audubon, which agrees with Sabal Trail, but doesn’t even name Sierra Club, when discounting SC’s much larger concerns. Why should EPA, or we, believe Sabal Trail’s “intent” when Sabal Trail’s parent company, Spectra Energy, has repeatedly not even followed federal law or its own corporate procedures?

Addresses Bruce Ritchie, Politico, 16 December 2015, EPA reverses course on several Sabal Trail pipeline issues,

TALLAHASSEE — The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed itself on numerous points in opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline that would extend from Alabama across Southwest Georgia and North Florida.

In October, the EPA said in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that it had “very significant concerns” that the proposed route posed a threat to the Floridan Aquifer, the drinking water supply for much of the region. The agency also raised concerns about the pipeline’s impact on wetlands, conservation lands, and minority communities in the region.

But in a Dec. 11 letter sent to the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA’s James D. Giattina said the agency had met with representatives of Sabal Trail Transmission LLC and reviewed the company’s comments sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As a result, the EPA has come to different conclusions on several issues.

The EPA’s change of heart raises suspicions for Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager for the Sierra Club in Florida.

“This sudden, 180-degree reversal raises the question of whether the pipeline’s powerful investors pulled political strings to get EPA to back away from the objections it raised a few months ago,” Jackalone said in an email Tuesday to POLITICO Florida.

Regarding wetlands, the new EPA letter says on page 2 that the wetland mitigation calculations in the FERC DEIS were wrong, that Sabal Trail has finally sent an update, and EPA adds:

EPA understands this update has been provided to both the FERC and the US. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), and the EPA expects that the wetlands impacts will be addressed in tnore detail during the Section 404 pennit process. The EPA looks forward to reviewing the final mitigation plan during that review.

If wetland mitigation hasn’t been adequately reviewed in the two years of the FERC pre-filing and filing process, why should we believe it will be adequately reviewed during the less transparent USACE process, in which we cannot even see comments submitted to USACE?

The new EPA letter also says (page 3):

For example, the Applicants provided the EPA with a copy of Florida Audubon’s October 6, 20l5. letter to the FERC, concerning two of the conservation areas that noted by re-routing the pipeline around the edge of the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County Florida, they have avoided sensitive Florida Scrub Jay Habitat. In addition, through re-routing and mitigation. Sabal Trail has reduced the overall impacts to the Green Swamp Area of Critical Concern.

That’s the letter to FERC for which Florida Audubon itself tried to reverse the parts that said “Audubon Florida now strongly supports Sabal Trail”. Yet Sabal Trail is using it as evidence to convince EPA to reverse itself.

Even worse, the next thing the new EPA letter says is:

The EPA appreciates these efforts and based on the DEIS. it appears that it is the FERC’s and the Applicants’ intent to let these conservation areas naturalize to pre-construction conditions and as a result this land use conversion should not be a signilicant long-term environmental issue.

It appears that? Their intent? Spectra Energy is the same company that according to a news story promised in writing to protect the Western Toad in Canada and then challenged a fine for not doing so. In July 2015, the Canadian National Energy Board issued a blanked order to Spectra to clean up its “safety concerns on a systemic basis, throughout all its gas processing plants and facilities.” that was only a year and a half after the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration (PHMSA) in December 2013 fined Spectra on five points, saying Spectra hadn’t followed federal law or its own corporate procedures. Why should we believe Spectra’s vague intent?

So EPA chose to believe Florida Audubon, yet they couldn’t bring themselves even to name Florida Sierra Club on the next page:

In the October 26. 20l5, letter the EPA raised concerns that the pipeline would pose a potential threat to groundwater (and surface waters) resources. The EPA had received an emergency petition to designate the entire Floridan aquifer system as a sole source aquifer pursuant to §l424(e) the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. This designation is used for areas that may have no alternative drinking water source physically and economically available to supply all who depend on the aquifer for drinking water. The EPA had rcqttested that the FERC develop an alternative route to avoid impacts to the Floridan Aquifer and its sensitive and vulnerable karst terrain. As noted above. based on the EPA’s review of the additional information associated with the analysis of the karst areas. the EPA believes it is unlikely that the pipeline would impact the Floridan Aquifer through karst or sinkhole features. As the Applicants correctly point out, the Floridan Aquifer underlies all of Florida and part of Georgia and avoiding routing the pipeline over the aquifer would be impossible.

Actually, Florida Sierra Club pointed out in its publicity for its emergency petition to EPA of April 2015 that

“Underlying the entire state of Florida is the Floridan Aquifer System (FAS), one of the most economically significant, extensive, deepest and most productive artesian aquifer systems in the world. The FAS underlies all of Florida, southern Georgia, southern South Carolina, far-southern Alabama and far-southern Mississippi.”

EPA didn’t hear that until Sabal Trail said it?

And of course there’s a way to avoid the Floridan Aquifer: don’t build the pipeline! Build solar power instead.

Doubling down on believing pipeline company propaganda, the next sentence from the EPA is:

In addition. in the event there was a pipeline rupture, the gas would most likely vent to the atmosphere and would not contaminate the underlying groundwater or the Floridan aquifer.

That’s not what Spectra Energy’s own annual SEC Form 10-K says:

The Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires that polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated materials be managed in accordance with a comprehensive regulatory regime. Because of the historical use of lubricating oils containing PCBs, the internal surfaces of some of our pipeline systems are contaminated with PCBs, and liquids and other materials removed from these pipelines must be managed in compliance with such regulations.

Plus a pipeline drilled in karst terrain could produce cracks or sinkholes which could drain river water or other contaminants into drinking water, as already happened with the Withlacoochee River and Valdosta, Georgia’s water wells. It’s no secret that surface water is interchanged with groundwater, because USGS has spelled that out.

The Politio story details some reversals in that new EPA letter, including:

But Giattina wrote on Friday that the applicants used LiDAR, a type of radar that uses light to map surface features, to examine the entire pipeline route along with a geotechnical and geophysical analysis.

Well, where is that LiDAR? As Chris Mericle pointed out to the Suwannee Board of County Commissioners last night, he’s been asking to see it for some time, and Sabal Trail never produces it.

This part is rather amazing:

“In summary, the EPA believes the applicants have chosen a path that avoids many of the most sensitive areas and demonstrates the karst areas in the path of the pipeline are unlikely to be significantly affected,” he wrote.

This Politico story refers to a previous Politico story:

Last Friday, a state administrative law judge recommended that the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation issue an environmental resources permit for the project in Florida. DEP supported the company’s request to block consideration of the EPA letter in the court case.

In addition to this:

Permit applications are pending with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

There is also an air quality permit pending for Sabal Trail’s proposed Albany, GA compressor station, as well as GA-DNR easements under Georgia rivers.

There are still opportunities to stop this pipeline.


2 thoughts on “EPA chooses to believe Sabal Trail’s intent over Sierra Club and WWALS warnings

  1. Pingback: The future of energy and Sabal Trail pipeline at Suwannee Cuonty Commission –Jasper News | WWALS Watershed Coalition

  2. Pingback: Marion County Sinkhole on Sabal Trail path | SpectraBusters

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