Wide-ranging Sabal Trail opposition article by Molly Minta in The Fine Print

Molly Minta, The Fine Print, 5 February 2017, Rise Against the Machine: In 2013, Marion County residents began to receive letters from Sabal Trail Transmission. Now, they’ve made it their mission to save their land, and stop Sabal Trail.

Photo: Molly Minta.
An oak tree is felled by Sabal Trail construction workers.

Months before the town considered bankruptcy in 2013, residents of Dunnellon began to receive letters from a company called Sabal Trail Transmission. The letters were an introduction and explained why the company was coming to the area: to build a natural gas pipeline and compressor station. The letters were part of the first step in the process of getting a pipeline approved.

Only landowners within 600 feet of the pipeline received a letter, so not many people in Dunnellon are aware of it. But the ones who are fear it could completely disrupt their way of life.

The pipeline will pass within a mile of the Rainbow River; residents fear that if it leaks the water will no longer be the clear aquamarine that brings flocks of tourists. And the drilling necessary to construct it is cause for concern: last November, a section of the pipeline leaked into Georgia’s Withlacoochee River. Environmentalists also fear drilling into the porous Florida bedrock will create sinkholes. The pipeline will pass under agricultural lands; farmers who burn their crops for fertilization fear explosions. It will go within a mile of Dunnellon High School and Dunnellon Elementary School and run parallel to the only road residents can use to access them.

But those opposed to the pipeline don’t just have to take on corruption at the state level. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that granted Sabal Trail eminent domain and which oversees interstate pipeline projects, is supposed to regulate the natural gas industry and hold the companies accountable. Activists, however, contend that it does just the opposite.

“The whole system is corrupt from top to bottom,” said John Quarterman, president of the WWALS Watershed Coalition, which stands for the Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little and Suwannee rivers. He said that though FERC receives money from Congress every year, it’s self-funding, which means that it is authorized by the government to collect annual fees from the industries it regulates. FERC is the only independent executive agency in the United States with this kind of authority. In essence, Quarterman said, the agency is susceptible to being bought out by the natural gas industries.

“The word you’re looking for starts with ‘c,’ as in corrupt,” Quarterman said. “The polite way of saying it is ‘regulatory capture.’”

FERC isn’t just authorized to collect annual fees, it brags in its annual budget request that it does pay back 100% of its Congressional allocation from fees and charges on the industries it supposedly regulates. This is the wording in FERC’s 2017 budget request:

As authorized by statute, including the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, the Commission recovers the full cost of its operations through annual charges and filing fees assessed on the industries it regulates. This revenue is deposited into the Treasury as a direct offset to its appropriation, resulting in no net appropriation.

You can contact your members of Congress and demand, like almost 200 U.S. nonprofits including WWALS have done, that Congress rein in the rogue agency FERC. You can ask your state legislators to pass a resolution to urge their state Congressional delegation to rein in FERC. Here’s a petition to Georgia legislators for that.

You can also demand banks divest from Sabal Trail, and also Virginia 529, the largest U.S. college-savings fund, and also the largest mutual fund investor in Spectra Energy, the Sabal Trail pipeline company.

There’s a lot more in the article; please read the whole thing. You’ll probably recognize many of the names.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!