During the state’s public hearings and listening sessions about the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, many concerned citizens talked about how the $5.5 billion project would contribute to climate change. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. The fracking operations in West Virginia, the starting line for the 600-mile pipeline, would leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And the pipeline itself would eventually leak methane as well.
Now in the case of a different pipeline — Southeast Markets — a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia has ruled 2-1 that federal regulators inadequately considered climate change and greenhouse gases in approving the project. The Hill reported the story this morning.
The ruling sets a legal precedent should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. If FERC does — a decision is due Oct. 19 — then it’s almost assured that environmental groups will sue.
The Southeast Markets pipeline is owned by three companies: TransCo, which already operates a pipeline that runs through North Carolina; Sabal Trail Transmission, and Florida Southeast Connection. The 688-mile pipeline would run through Alabama and Georgia before ending in Florida, where it would fuel existing and planned power plants. (This scenario is similar to the ACP, which would bring gas to Virginia and North Carolina to fuel Duke Energy’s and Dominion Energy’s facilities.)
The Sierra Club sued FERC following its 2016 approval of Southeast project. The court denied all of the Sierra Club’s objections, except the one about greenhouse gases.
Judge Thomas Griffith, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush, wrote the opinion. From The Hill:
“As we have noted, greenhouse-gas emissions are an indirect effect of authorizing this project, which FERC could reasonably foresee, and which the agency has legal authority to mitigate,” Griffith said.
However, the court’s decision doesn’t kill the pipeline. The project returns to FERC, which is required to complete the necessary greenhouse gas analysis.