Has the Horse Already Left the Barn? FERC Tries to Limit Review of Climate Impacts

Last week, FERC rejected arguments that the Environmental Assessment for the New Market Project should have considered upstream and downstream climate impacts.  It also announced as policy that it would not in the future analyze:

the upstream production and downstream use[s] of natural gas [that] are not cumulative or indirect impacts of the proposed pipeline project, and consequently are outside the scope of our NEPA analysis.

The decision was made in the shadow of Sierra Club v. FERC, in which the D.C. Circuit required such analyses with respect to the Sabal Trail pipeline.  FERC distinguished Sierra Club v. FERC on the grounds that the New Market Project involves only compressor stations, both the suppliers and end users of the gas are unknown, and any climate impacts are too speculative.  The decision states that:

providing a broad analysis based on generalized assumptions rather than reasonably specific information does not meaningfully inform the Commission’s project-specific review.

Commissioners LaFleur and Glick both dissented, arguing that the decision was inconsistent with Sierra Club v. FERC.  Commissioner Glick had this to say:

Adding capacity has the potential to “spur demand” and, for that reason, an agency conducting a NEPA review must, at the very least, examine the effects that an expansion of pipeline capacity might have on production and consumption.  Indeed, if a proposed pipeline neither increases the supply of natural gas available to consumers nor decreases the price that those consumers would pay, it is hard to imagine why that pipeline would be “needed” in the first place.

To which I can only say, touché.

What the FERC decision and the dissents really illustrate is that one person’s “reasonably foreseeable” is another person’s “speculation.”  This issue is not going to go away.

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