Monday, October 20, 2014

FERC, Greens Spar over 'Cursory' Reviews of Gas Projects

Members of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network protest before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. The protesters held a mock trial to condemn FERC for approving the Cove Point LNG export terminal in the Chesapeake Bay.  (Credit: Hannah Northey) Click to enlarge.
Climate change activists have opened a new front in their fight against fossil fuels at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

They are pressing the agency to examine the impact of projects tied to the U.S. natural gas boom on global warming.  They say the National Environment Policy Act, or NEPA, requires such assessments before projects move on.
FERC disagrees.

The commission says there's no reliable formula for weighing the impacts on the environment of emissions from any pipeline, compressor station or export terminal.  The agency also says it can't measure a project's indirect effects, such as how one pipeline might spur more drilling for gas.  The courts, it adds, are on its side.

At issue:  NEPA, the landmark 1970 law that requires federal agencies to weigh environmental concerns in their planning and decision making by preparing detailed assessments of project impacts and alternatives.

Both sides claim NEPA's with them.  Who's right?

Steven Weissman, director of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law's energy program, argued in a recent paper he wrote with researcher Romany Webb that the law requires FERC to evaluate "all factors bearing on the public interest" before giving companies permission to build and operate new gas projects.  That, he wrote, could include emissions from building and operating pipelines and producing and using gas.

"The question is really whether NEPA provides a latitude to ask these type of questions.  We say it does," Weissman said in an interview.  "FERC has never refuted that.  They've only said they can't do it."

The agency's review of climate effects from gas projects has been "cursory at best," he said.  And it's been reluctant, he added, to analyze the environmental implications of proposed projects on gas production or consumption.

Read More at FERC, Greens Spar over 'Cursory' Reviews of Gas Projects

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