Environmental groups sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today over its decision to approve a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal along the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland without conducting a rigorous environmental review.
The lawsuit, filed in the federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit, charges that FERC circumvented the law by failing to consider how Dominion Resources’ $3.8 billion Cove Point project would trigger expanded fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus shale region, leading to significant new amounts of air, water and climate-disrupting pollution. Additionally, the groups contend that FERC failed to adequately consider the impact of foreign ships dumping dirty wastewater into the Chesapeake Bay. Earthjustice filed the suit today on behalf of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Patuxent Riverkeeper, and Sierra Club.
"After months of delay, we will finally get our day in court to challenge the fundamentally flawed approval of Dominion’s climate- and community-wrecking project," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. "Time and again, FERC has shown a blatant disregard for the health and safety of people and the climate and, we believe, the law. Tragically, FERC’s foot-dragging has allowed Dominion bulldozers to start construction before Calvert County residents had legal recourse to challenge the agency’s decision."
For nearly seven months, FERC had delayed ruling on the groups’ request for a rehearing of its September 29 decision approving the project, even as the agency approved order after order allowing Dominion to begin construction. FERC finally rejected the groups’ rehearing motion on Monday, clearing the way for today’s legal challenge.
Dominion’s construction activities have already begun to irrevocably damage the landscape and quality of life in Calvert County, Maryland. Some local residents have put their homes up for sale and moved away rather than deal with mounting pollution, noise, and large trucks and construction vehicles inundating roadways, as well as the potential for catastrophic explosions and fires if the facility becomes fully operational.
"With this order, FERC yet again has failed to fulfill its duty under federal environmental law," said Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, senior associate attorney at Earthjustice. "Exporting nearly 1 billion cubic feet of LNG per day means more gas drilling, which wreaks havoc on both the climate and the communities scarred by wells and pipelines. We are asking the federal court to ensure that FERC evaluates the many ways that the Cove Point project will degrade the environment."
FERC has faced escalating protests and mounting legal challenges over the past year for facilitating a massive expansion of gas export infrastructure and pipelines at the expense of the public interest. Legal challenges are also pending over the agency’s approval of LNG export facilities in Sabine Pass and Cameron, Louisiana and in Freeport, Texas.
"Exporting LNG will lead to more drilling—and more drilling means more fracking, more air and water pollution, and more climate-fueled weather disasters like record fires, droughts, and superstorms," said Nathan Matthews, Sierra Club staff attorney. "FERC consistently fails to take the full impact of fracking into account when it considers whether to green light LNG exports, and it did so again in the case of Cove Point. For the sake of public health and our fragile climate we have no alternative but to challenge FERC's incomplete environmental review in federal court."
"The Dominion expansion at Cove Point has been given a green light by parties at the county, state and federal level regardless of and with little regard for the likely environmental impacts," said Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper. "The local environmental impacts have been dismissed even as the economic impacts have been largely distorted and inadequately explored. We now look to the courts to step in where our regulators have failed in order to safeguard our waterway and communities."
The Dominion Cove Point project would take gas from wells across Appalachia and liquefy it along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay for export to Asia. The project would be the first LNG export facility ever built so close to so many homes and the first built in close proximity to Marcellus Shale fracking operations. According to federal data, exporting fracked gas could contribute more to global warming over the next two decades than burning coal mined in the Asian countries importing LNG.
The groups’ lawsuit centers on FERC’s unlawfully narrow Environmental Assessment. That review—challenged in over 150,000 citizen comments—omitted credible analysis of the project’s lifecycle global warming pollution, along with all the pollution associated with driving demand for upstream fracking and fracked gas infrastructure; its impact on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and risk to the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale; and potentially catastrophic explosion and fire threat to hundreds of nearby residents.