The federal agency overseeing gas pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, issued a nine-page statement Wednesday that says it’s “inappropriate” for the agency to try to figure out the climate change impact of the controversial Sabal Trail Pipeline.
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., had ruled last month that FERC should have addressed that question before approving the construction of the $3.2 billion pipeline, a 515-mile conduit for natural gas that when completed will snake through Alabama, Georgia and Florida. At 268 miles, the Florida section is the longest, and its construction involved drilling beneath the state’s most famous river, the Suwannee.
That ruling was hailed as a victory for the Sierra Club, which had sued over the pipeline’s approval. Sierra Club officials argued that until FERC addressed the question, the pipeline should be shut down.
But the ruling had left FERC an out: The judges declared that the environmental impact statement for the project was required to either quantify the impact of GHG resulting from burning the fracked gas transported by the pipeline or explain why it failed to do so. So in Wednesday’s statement, FERC explained why it chose not to do so.
While recognizing that there is a tool for calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of users of the new pipeline’s gas transmissions, FERC wrote, the tool doesn’t work for multiple generations of users.. Nor does it measure “the actual incremental impacts of a project on the environment,” the agency’s statement said. Therefore, the agency contended, “it is not appropriate for estimating a specific project’s impacts or informing our analysis.”
Expect further court action on this. Meanwhile, the pipeline started carrying gas this summer -- and scaring residents nearby who thought they smelled a leak.