From pipelines to renewable energy and efficiency –Sierra Club 2017-08-29

“Once the court officially returns the matter to FERC, the pipeline should cease operations while FERC undertakes the new analysis,” wrote Elly Benson, lead attorney for the case Sierra Club just won against Sabal Trail.

She summed up: ”Instead of sacrificing our communities and environment to build unnecessary pipelines that “set up surefire profits” for pipeline companies at the expense of captive ratepayers, the focus should be on transitioning to clean renewable energy and energy efficiency—especially in the Sunshine State. Forcing federal agencies to grapple with the true climate impacts of dirty fossil fuel projects is a big step in the right direction.”

She leads off this fourth in a WWALS news roundup series (1, 2, 3) about that case, followed by Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper, another party to the case.

WWALS is not a party to that case and does not speak for the parties, so I can be a cheerleader for them. Shut it down! Let the sun rise!

How many pipelines do we want? None! When do we want it? Never!
How many pipelines do we want? None! When do we want them? Never! —WWALS at the Sabal Trail Suwannee River crossing, 15 August 2015.

  • Elly Benson, Sierra Club, 28 August 2017, In Major Climate Decision, D.C. Circuit Rejects Federal Approval of Sabal Trail Pipeline,

    FPL, please read this summary, since apparently you didn’t read the actual court decision:

    Once the court officially returns the matter to FERC, the pipeline should cease operations while FERC undertakes the new analysis. (Despite the shoddy environmental review, the pipeline was allowed to start operating in June.)

    Noting that “[i]t’s not just the journey, … it’s also the destination,” the court rejected each of FERC’s many excuses for ignoring the emissions from burning the gas. The court found:

    • FERC is the “legally relevant cause” of the climate-altering emissions because it has the power to deny a pipeline based on harm to the environment.
    • FERC has estimated that the pipeline will transport 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of gas, and can use this number to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
    • FERC’s vague assertions that “some” emissions may “potentially” be offset by coal plant retirements were so devoid of meaningful information that the environmental impact statement “fail[ed] to fulfill its primary purpose.”
    • Even if the power plants are subject to state or federal greenhouse-gas regulations in the future, such requirements cannot substitute for a proper NEPA analysis (citing a landmark NEPA case from 1971).

    Her article reviews the court’s unfortunate dismissal of the environmental justic aspects of the case, and links to the VDT on Sabal Trail destroying Randy Dowdy’s world-record-holding Brooks County, Georgia soybean fields, to WFSU on Sabal Trail’s Withlacoochee River frac-out of drilling mud between Quitman and Valdosta, Georgia, and to the Miami New Times on Sabal Trail’s Dunnellon stink leak.

    Her concluding paragraphs:

    These issues, and the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, are a prime example of why FERC cannot be allowed to continue to rubber-stamp dangerous gas pipelines. FERC has consistently allowed pipeline construction to move forward—inflicting environmental damage and taking people’s private property through eminent domain—before the full scope of impacts is understood. (In particular, FERC has sought, with a disturbing degree of success, to keep injured parties out of court while allowing pipeline companies to move forward with construction.)

    As is frequently the case, here the pipeline companies are corporate affiliates of the utilities that have contracted to purchase the gas. Instead of sacrificing our communities and environment to build unnecessary pipelines that “set up surefire profits†for pipeline companies at the expense of captive ratepayers, the focus should be on transitioning to clean renewable energy and energy efficiency—especially in the Sunshine State. Forcing federal agencies to grapple with the true climate impacts of dirty fossil fuel projects is a big step in the right direction.

    Pipelines: crony capitalism in action. Sierra Club case: a grappling hook to tear open the curtain on that corruption.

  • Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper, D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision against the Sabal Trail Frack-gas Pipeline: What Does it Mean?,

    The main question is: what does it mean? We wish there was a simple answer; and the simple truth is that we do not know all of the various implications of this decision. The attorneys on the case are evaluating where we are as I write this. Those in certain quarters are claiming an immense victory, but when you read things a bit more closely you realize that while the case may be precedent-setting, such precedent is for pipelines yet to be granted a go-ahead.

    It’s the fossil fuel industry press that’s most loudly saying this was a great victory. Indeed, I and others are spreading that around as widely as possible, because we all need the public to realize we can win. Plus, as Elly Benson writes, even Sabal Trail should be shut down.

    Gordon summarizes the case in a paragraph, and continues:

    More apples. More bites at them. Maybe.

    And for similar pipeline projects around the country, much closer scrutiny during the FERC process. Certainly a good thing.

    Meanwhile, the Sabal Trail frack-gas pipeline has been laid, and is operational, with gas flowing through it. Along the way, we lost on arguments concerning water quality, destruction of wetlands, threats to the aquifers, threats of new sinkholes, threats of explosions, and takings of private lands by eminent domain. We lost on the issue of environmental justice, the disproportionate targeting of communities in west Albany with the location of a compressor station (slated for construction in 2020). We lost on arguments of alternative routes, alternative energy sources. This win, based upon an inadequate analysis of greenhouse gas emissions, certainly proves what we have been saying all along: this pipeline as laid out and constructed, is illegal, and the FERC certification process is broken. Yet, the pipeline is there, a key part of what is broken about the FERC process. So, this can mean good things for pipelines yet to be proposed or already proposed and not yet built, all around the country. We are grateful for that, and proud to have been a part of that victory. The decision might yet be appealed or a review of the decision requested by FERC. We’ll see. For now, the decision stands, and has broad effect.

    But, what does this mean for East Alabama, Southwest Georgia, and Central Florida, for all of the affected citizens along the route? We do not yet know. It could mean nothing more than FERC rejiggering its paperwork and things rocking along as they are now, with the same or even more frack gas (after compressor stations are built) flowing down the line. But, it could also mean that the current gas flow, or increased gas flow, could be found to be inappropriate under the more finely-focused analysis that the court orders.

    The latter would be interesting indeed. We will keep you posted as things move forward.

    Indeed it would be interesting if the court recognizes what we all know: any flow through Sabal Trail is inappropriate.

    As a party to the case, Gordon has to be cautious in what he writes.

    WWALS is not a party to the case, so let me say it plainly: Shut it down! Let the sun rise!

  • Dan Heyman, Public News Service, 28 August 2017, Federal Court Ruling Gives Pipeline Opponents New Ammo,

    Energy companies have proposed building a large number of pipelines to carry Marcellus and Utica natural gas. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

    RICHMOND, Va. — In light of a new court ruling, opponents want to force regulators to look at the climate impact of the gas from two huge proposed pipelines.

    Last week the Washington, D.C. District Court ruled in favor of the Sierra Club that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should have considered the greenhouse emissions from gas carried by a pipeline from Alabama to Florida.

    Kirk Bowers, pipelines program coordinator for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, says his group will push for that decision to be applied to the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines.

    He says burning gas from those pipelines would mean more carbon than all Virginia power plants now emit — nearly 100 million tons a year.

    “And that’s almost double what we have now,” he points out. “And that means that we’re blowing our carbon budget at a time when we can’t afford to use more fossil fuels and emit more greenhouse gasses.”

    The companies behind the pipelines did include those carbon emissions in their applications. But Bowers calls their estimates “incomplete, inaccurate and low.”

    This is also relevant to the KMI FGT Jacksonville Expansion Project (JEP) already permitted by FERC and completed from Sabal Trail in Suwannee County to Eagle LNG in Jacksonville, and to another Sabal Trail offshoot pipeline in FERC permitting right now:

    “FERC said they weren’t in the business of determining whether they should have three pipelines or not,” he states. “And we’ve got all these reasons why we don’t need more pipelines, and FERC said they’re taking a blind-eye approach.”

    Bowers says FERC also will grant permission for pipelines to go ahead, even before the application process and court challenges are finished. He says in fact, the Alabama pipeline was finished and operating before last week’s court ruling came down.

    If FERC isn’t in that business, who is?

    The pipeline companies, that’s who! And that needs to change.

  • Andrew L. Spielman, Mondaq, 29 August 2017, DC Circuit Holds FERC Must Analyze Downstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Approving Interstate Gas Pipelines,

    The article tries to conflate this decision with the recent Sierra Club losses in cases against LNG export, ignoring that the court decision directly addressed why this one is different. It then notes:

    The court acknowledges that this opinion does not oblige all agencies to quantify downstream greenhouse gas emissions in every case where those emissions are an indirect effect of an agency action. It provides a limited exception if quantification is not possible, in which case the court notes that an agency must provide a detailed explanation as to why quantification is infeasible.

    The article opines that FERC and other agencies will thus probably either include excuses, er, excuse me, “a detailed explanation” of why they can’t, or they could actually include estimates of greenhouse gas emissions. Whether that will include the social cost of carbon is unclear.

    I imagine this is probably about what FERC’s attorneys are thinking: how to do the least to satisfy the court.

  • Robert Trigaux, Tampa Bay Times, 25 August 2017, Trigaux: Sabal Trail gas pipeline faces bumpy start, but state lacks options for electricity,

    He cites no sources to back this up:

    Per person, electricity use is not a booming business. But with new folks and retiring boomers pouring over the state border these days, Florida’s electric utility industry will need to keep generating more kilowatts — just to keep up with the demand of the next wave of Floridians.

    Not even FPL agrees with him.

    He gives his version of various energy sources, including:

    • Renewables like solar and wind are rising but combined generate less than 5 percent of the electricity in the state. At this point, consider them puny players in the “sunshine” state — no thanks to big power companies that have done their political best to suppress the independent solar industry here.

    And a few years ago it was 1 percent. For three years FPL built no, zero, not one new solar power farm in Florida, but now it’s building them, as are Duke and Gulf Power and others.

    People really don’t understand exponential growth, which is how solar power is growing, like compound interest, like personal computers, mobile phones, and smart phones. The iphone was introduced in June 2007. Even five years ago, most people did not have a smart phone. Now anyone who does not have one is unusual. Solar power will win like the Internet did, going from unusual to ubiquitous in almost no time.

    As Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman has well documented in recent years, protesters have rallied against the pipeline in such diverse places as downtown St. Petersburg (where Duke Energy Florida has its headquarters) and along the historic Suwannee River in north Florida.

    Driven by market prices and weak state planning, Florida now finds itself heavily dependent on natural gas as the principal fuel that will help keep the lights (and air conditioning) on in Florida. That’s not a healthy situation, and it’s certainly not unique to this state.

    I wouldn’t be so sure any other state is more than 60% dependant on natural gas like Florida. I would bet that it’s the biggest state to be so stupid.

    But it does help explain why the latest pipeline probably won’t be the last pipeline to carry natural gas into a fast growing state.

    Well, we’ll just see about that.

    No more pipelines. Let the sun rise!

  • Now a word from the end of the Citrus County line, which is the cause of the stink being put in at the Dunnellon Compressor Station site that Sabal Fail leaked multiple days on two episodes. Florida Trend, Sponsored Report, 28 August 2017, Combined-Cycle Natural Gas Plant to Provide $600 Million Economic Impact,

    Duke Energy’s new Citrus County Combined Cycle Natural Gas Plant project is progressing as expected — safely, on time and on budget. The 1,640-megawatt plant is Duke Energy’s largest combined-cycle plant under construction and among the largest in the industry. Construction of the $1.5 billion plant is about 35 percent complete….

    The 515-mile interstate, Sabal Trail Transmission, which is currently under construction, will supply natural gas to the Citrus County plant. The $3 billion interstate, underground pipeline will start in Alabama, extend through Georgia and end in central Florida. Sabal Trail will license, construct and operate the natural gas pipeline, which will serve multiple utilities….

    That ad also claims Duke’s Crystal River plant will have reduced emissions, while never mentioning solar power would be far cleaner, and touts alleged economic advantages, never mentioning that the solar industry already employs more people in electricity production than coal, oil, and gas combined.

    And the ad never mentions the Sierra Club court win. We’ll see, Duke.

  • Lisa Sorg, The Progressive Pulse (North Carolina), 22 August 2017, Court decision out of DC could portend trouble for Atlantic Coast Pipeline, contains nothing really new, except it’s from yet another state.

    Hundreds of people turned out in Rocky Mount to comment on the water quality, riparian buffer and climate change impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

  • Mary B. Powers, Engineering News Record, 22 August 2017, US Court Orders Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Impact in Pipeline Review: Appellate court decision, while split, would color FERC project approvals,

    Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline under construction in Florida. Photo:

    The ruling comes just weeks after FERC finally reached its full quorum of commissioners to approval pipeline projects.

  • How many pipeline projects? Charles Hughes, #21, 18 August 2017, Finally, FERC Can Clear the Blocked Pipeline of Pipeline Construction Projects,

    In total, there are 18 major pending projects before the agency that are only waiting on the final decision about certification. These projects represent billions of dollars of private infrastructure development and thousands of construction jobs. The six largest projects alone would add more than 8.9 billion cubic feet per day of pipeline capacity to the existing infrastructure network. Certificating these projects would more than double the additional pipeline that has been approved so far this year.

    Many of these projects are pipelines that would open up markets to natural gas production in the Marcellus shale. Agreements with producers and end-users have already been disrupted by the lengthy delay.

    With its newly-restored quorum, FERC’s first step should be to promptly make a decision on these projects based on the extensive review and final environmental reviews that have already been issued. The agency can then begin to wind down the backlog of projects that have been accumulating.

    Not so fast, FERC. See Sierra Club court win.

  • Ken Ward Jr, Charleston Gazette-Mail, 26 August 2017, Climate change impacts of gas pipelines need study, court ruling says,

    Two controversial natural gas pipelines proposed for West Virginia could face additional scrutiny because of a new federal court ruling that mandates a more detailed review of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with such projects.

    The article summarizes the Sierra Club court win, and continues:

    Pending before FERC are permit applications from the Mountain Valley Pipeline from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from Harrison County to southeast North Carolina.

    The projects are among a collection of pipelines that are proposed or under construction across the region that are meant to take advantage of the Marcellus Shale gas boom, but are drawing opposition from local citizens and from national environmental groups.

    While burning natural gas at a power plant produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal, scientists are increasing concerned about the climate change impacts of leakage of the powerful greenhouse gas methane all along the stages upstream from power plants in the process of drilling for natural gas, producing the gas, and transporting it to power plants. The Trump administration has been trying — so far unsuccessfully to drop an Obama administration rule aimed at reducing those emissions.

    The extent to which FERC examined climate change impacts is almost certain to become part of future legal challenges when the agency, as it is expected to do, approves both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. FERC has issued final environmental studies for both projects, but has not yet approved the permits for them.

    In their review of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, officials from FERC argued that upstream and downstream greenhouse emissions aren’t really “causally connected” to the pipeline, and therefore not necessarily part of the FERC analysis. FERC did acknowledge that methods for estimating and acknowledging such emissions are available, and published some numbers in its EIS.

    So FERC did compare life-cycle emissions in that one, admitting that it can.

    But, the FERC study argued that because burning gas produces fewer greenhouse emissions than coal, and cited one government study that argued the “life-cycle” emissions from gas also lower than for coal. FERC said that review showed that greenhouse gas emissions from the Atlantic Coal Pipeline “have been minimized” and “would not significantly contribute to [greenhouse gas] cumulative impacts or climate change.”

    I bet FERC didn’t compare solar or wind power, now did it?

    Mountain Valley Pipeline Proposed Route
    Mountain Valley Pipeline Proposed Route

    When examining the Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC also generated an estimate of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, but then concluded, “because we cannot determine the project’s incremental physical impacts on the environment caused by climate change, we cannot determine whether the project’s contribution to cumulative impacts on climate change would be significant.”

    As the article points out, that last clause is exactly what the court just said FERC can’t get away with anymore.

  • From the county Sabal Trail stunk up with Mercaptan, including mention of a coal mine in Montana. unknown author, South Marion Citizen, 25 August 2017, Sabal Trail loses in court,

    The ruling supports arguments from environmentalists that the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a landmark law that governs environmental assessments of major federal actions, requires federal regulators to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in its environmental assessments.

    The ruling is the second federal court decision this month to come to such a conclusion.

    On August 14, a U.S. District Court judge rejected a proposed expansion of a coal mine in Montana. The judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining violated NEPA by failing to take into account the project’s climate impacts.

    In February, outgoing FERC chair and Obama appointee Norman Bay urged the commission to take greenhouse gas emissions from the Marcellus and Utica shale basins into account when reviewing pipeline projects.

    “Even if not required by NEPA, in light of the heightened public interest and in the interests of good government, I believe the commission should analyze the environmental effects of increased regional gas production from the Marcellus and Utica,” Bay wrote in a memo during his last week in office. “Where it is possible to do so, the commission should also be open to analyzing the downstream impacts of the use of natural gas and to performing a life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions study.”

    Newly appointed commissioners nominated by President Donald Trump, however, appear unlikely to seek broader environmental reviews for pipeline projects. Before he was confirmed by the Senate to serve as a FERC commissioner earlier this month, Robert Powelson said that people opposing pipeline projects are engaged in a “jihad” to keep natural gas from reaching new markets.

    Well, Commissioner Powelson, now you have a court ruling to contend with regarding Sabal Trail and every one of those 18 pending pipelines. Maybe FERC should have listened to Norman Bay.

    Even better: FERC should have listened to its former Chairman Jon Wellinghoff back in 2013 when he said natural gas is a dead end and more total U.S. electricity will come from solar power than any other source by 2023. That prediction is on track, with solar deployments more than doubling every two years, and more new U.S. electricity coming from solar than any other source last year. That’s what happens with exponential growth like compound interest: for a long time nothing seems to be happening, and suddenly, we have a winner!

  • National Law Review, 25 August 2017, D.C. Circuit Vacates and Remands FERC Approval of Southeast Market Pipelines Project, Nothing new here, but a good summary of the case if you don’t want to read the whole thing. For example, this explains the distinction between the cases Sierra Club lost and the one it just won:

    Thus the court contrasted the limited scope of what FERC may consider under DOE’s “narrow delegation” of authority versus FERC’s broader statutory authority to determine whether applications to construct and operate pipelines are in the public convenience and necessity under NGA section 7. In the LNG context, the court maintained, FERC was not statutorily authorized to evaluate the effects of natural gas exports when considering an application to construct and operate a facility. On the other hand, the court continued, FERC does have the authority to deny a pipeline certificate based on its potential environmental harm under NGA section 7; therefore FERC is the “legally relevant cause” of the direct and indirect environmental effects of approved pipelines, such as downstream greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, the court found FERC was required to analyze the indirect and cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions in the EIS.

    The article’s concluding paragraph is perhaps the most important:

    In the absence of rehearing en banc, FERC will need to address the issues identified by the panel majority on remand. As the D.C. Circuit has held, NEPA does not mandate particular results; NEPA prescribes a necessary process. Nothing in the majority opinion prevents FERC on remand from determining that the proposed projects remain in the public interest, once the additional elements identified by the majority are identified and addressed.

    This is why we all must demand Scoping Meetings and speak up about environmental effects and the public interest.

  • From the epicenter of the fossil fuel industry, Houston, Texas. Steve Gonzales?,, 25 August 2017, Pipeline projects could “further stall” after court ruling,

    A ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals this week that federal regulators should have considered climate change implications in approving a series of natural gas pipelines in the southeast United States is causing concern within the energy industry.

    Were that same standard applied to other projects under consideration at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it could “further stall a number of natural gas pipeline infrastructure projects throughout the country,” said Fred Jauss, an energy attorney with Dorsey & Whitney.

    “Pipeline developers may have to go back to the drawing board to prepare revised applications estimating the greenhouse gas impacts of new pipeline construction.”

    How about go back to the drawing board and deploy solar power instead?

    Last year the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which represents pipeline companies, estimated government approval for projects had increased from three to four years as result of the environmental groups’ challenges.

    How many years does it take before investors realize they could profit more by building a lot more sun and wind power in much less time?

    The article talks about pipelines as “government spending on infrastructure at-large” and continues:

    “Ultimately, this decision complicates the administration’s drive to promote infrastructure development and injects additional uncertainty into natural gas markets,” Jauss said.

    You know what investors hate? Uncertainty. You know what that could make pipelines? Stranded assets.

    You know what investors can fund that takes 9 months or less to build, with no eminent domain, no pipeline, no fuel, no testing or cooling water, no emissions, and often with little to no permitting? Solar power, with known output and known profit.

    Sorry about that hurricane, Houston, but if you stop sending out pipelines, we’ll have less climate change and maybe you won’t be flooded as much. Time for all the companies funding the black heart of the fossil fuel industry (the fossil fuel companies, Houston, not the city and not its people) and get on board the electric solar vehicle that’s already on its way to the future.

  • Let’s not forget it’s the fossil fuel industry saying the loudest that this court ruling could end Sabal Trail. Dave Forest, Business Insider, 24 August 2017, A court ruling is putting a major natural gas pipeline in jeopardy,

    But the court ruling raises the unsettling possibility that the project may be forced to shut down — after billions were spent putting it in into service.

    Yeah, I know I already used that one when it appeared in But this time it’s in Business Insider and it’s worth repeating the point: “the unsettling possibility that the project may be forced to shut down”. It’s not just other pipelines that may be unsettled: it’s also Sabal Trail itself.

Here are the previous installments in this WWALS news roundup series:

  1. Sierra Club wins case against Sabal Trail 2017-08-22,
  2. Pipeliners spooked by Sierra Club Major Landmark Victory; could shut down Sabal Trail —industry press,
  3. This is wind in our sails and could be the end of Sabal Trail —Suwannee Riverkeeper in VDT 2017-08-24)
  4. This article: From pipelines to renewable energy and efficiency –Sierra Club 2017-08-29

There are things you can do to help stop FERC getting away with murder. Stay tuned for still more things. Meanwhile, spread the news: fossil fuels are running scared because the FERC rubberstamp seems to be using disappearing ink.

WWALS on the Suwannee River at the Sabal Trail crossing, 15 August 2015.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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