Pipeline Reviews Need Overhaul to Reflect Climate Risks, Groups Say

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must fully account for the risks posed by gas pipelines


Miranda Fox, mfox@earthjustice.org

Mark Drajem, mdrajem@nrdc.org

Jake O’Neill, joneill@clf.org

Peter Hart, phart@fwwatch.org

Caleb Heeringa, caleb.heeringa@sierraclub.org

Shiloh Hernandez, hernandez@westernlaw.org

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must fully account for the risks gas pipelines pose to the climate and disadvantaged communities when reviewing those projects, a broad group of health and environmental groups said today.

In 110-page comments submitted to FERC, the groups spell out how and why the commission needs to end its practice of essentially rubberstamping gas industry applications to build new pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities.

Given court decisions against FERC, the impact of these projects on disadvantaged communities, and the urgency of taking action to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a fulsome assessment of environmental risks and options is needed.

“Given this stark science, any permitting decision should include a determination that the project is consistent with a broader program that will reduce national emissions to stay within the 1.5°C budget,” the groups say. “Put simply, a business-as-usual approach to fossil fuel infrastructure permitting will condemn humanity to a degraded future — an outcome wholly not in the public interest.”

The comments were led by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Conservation Law Foundation, Earthjustice, Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club, and the Western Environmental Law Center. A total of 55 groups signed on to the comments. Read the comments.

New Approach Needed

FERC has greenlighted more than 1,000 pipeline and LNG projects since 1999 while rejecting only a handful. But the commission must change its approach given its new focus on environmental justice, recent legal decisions, and the new urgency about climate change.

Just this month, the Environmental Protection Agency published a report showing that heat waves are more intense, wildfires are starting earlier each year, and flooding more likely. And the International Energy Agency said nations need to halt new approvals for fossil fuel infrastructure.

The comments focus on specific questions laid out by FERC as it seeks to update its natural gas policy statement. They lay out the legal reasons under the Natural Gas Act and National Environmental Policy Act that the commission must update its reviews to better assess if a pipeline project is really in the public interest.

“A private company’s desire to make a profit cannot and must not be proxy for determining if there is a genuine public need for a proposed pipeline,” they say.

As states adopt clean energy policies and the cost of renewable energy falls, FERC needs to adapt to that changing commercial landscape, as well.

“Recent studies demonstrate that the sharp decline in the cost of renewables likely will crowd out the demand for gas-fueled electricity in the coming decades, resulting in a higher per unit cost of gas-generated electricity, as well as a high risk that those gas assets will become stranded,” the groups say.

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