February 2019 Vol. 74 No. 2

Washington Watch

Washington Watch

By Stephen Barlas | Washington Editor

U.S. Chamber Details Impacts of Pipeline, LNG Opposition  

A new U.S. Chamber of Commerce study estimates that at least $91.9 billion in domestic economic activity and nearly 730,000 job opportunities were lost because of environmental opposition to the construction of pipeline and liquid natural gas projects.

The Chamber’s Global Energy Institute (GEI) looked at the circumstances leading to either delay or cancellation of 15 projects and a widely used input-output model of the economy to calculate the activity and job losses due to what it calls the anti-energy “Keep it in the Ground” (KIITG) movement. The report was published on Dec. 18, 2018.

“The anti-energy movement’s opposition to vital energy infrastructure comes with a real cost: lost job opportunities and billions in prevented domestic economic activity,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the GEI. “Unfortunately, a small but vocal group of activists is waging fights against these projects around the nation.”

The majority of the 15 projects covered in the report include high-profile ones such as the Constitution Pipeline, which New York State has blocked over Clean Water Act permits, the Jordan Cove LNG and Pacific Connector Pipeline, and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The Jordan Cove project, for example, landed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the first time in December 2007 when it applied for approval to export LNG from Coos Bay, Ore. According to the GEI report, No LNG Exports, a large activist coalition involving groups such as Citizens Against LNG, Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Rogue Climate, Stop Fracked Gas PDX and more, led much of the opposition campaign using a broad range of tactics and public pressure. In August 2018, FERC published a Notice of Schedule for the project, outlining an anticipated publication date of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in February 2019, with a decision on the final statement in November 2019.

In December 2017, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (D), who introduced the Keep it in the Ground Act of 2017, announced his opposition to the project. Under his bill, there would be no new leases for extraction of fossil fuels – such as coal, oil and gas – on all federal lands. It would also stop new leases for offshore drilling in the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, and prohibit offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The bill does not mention the Jordan Cove project and does not appear to apply to onshore LNG and pipeline construction.

Merkley’s bill also has a House counterpart, but neither that bill nor Merkley’s progressed at all in the last Congress. With Democrats taking over control of the House, the bill’s prospects, at least in the House, could improve markedly in 2019. For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has designated a new House select committee on climate crisis. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the chair of the committee, has promised to decline all campaign contributions from coal, oil or gas companies.

However, Martin Edwards, INGAA’s vice president for legislative affairs, cautioned, “I wouldn’t be expecting Congress to legislate much on energy policy in the coming two years given the wide gulf of views between the House, Senate and White House.”

Court Raises Questions About Federal Approval of Atlantic Coast Pipeline

One of the projects discussed in the U.S. Chamber report is the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which received its latest rebuff in December from a U.S. Court of Appeals that rejected permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service. The permits allow the 600-mile pipeline, whose primary sponsor is Dominion Energy, to cross U.S. Forest Service land including a section beneath the Appalachian Trial. The court argued the Forest Service improperly allowed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ignore environmental concerns the Forest Service raised.

The three-judge panel issuing the decision criticized FERC directly. “FERC’s analysis of alternative pipeline routes remained unchanged from the DEIS to the FEIS, and there is no other evidence apparent from the record that FERC addressed the Forest Service’s concerns about off-forest alternative routes,” it stated.

The panel’s decision, if upheld by the full Court of Appeals addressing Dominion’s appeal, could force FERC to be more careful in considering the full panoply of federal agency environmental concerns in the future when preparing a final environmental impact statement (FEIS).

Moreover, the decision could force agencies such as the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, all of which can have input to FERC’s preparation of a FEIS, to take steps to keep project sponsors at arm’s length. The Fourth Circuit panel implied that the Forest Service bent over backward in ignoring its environmental concerns in order to satisfy Dominion’s timeline for getting the Atlantic Pipeline up and running.

The court wrote: “A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources. This conclusion is particularly informed by the Forest Service’s serious environmental concerns that were suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company’s deadlines.”

The developers of the Atlantic Coast pipeline designed the 600- mile route so that it crossed the Appalachian Trail on U.S. Forest Service land, not on U.S. Park Service land, which would have obviated many of the environmental issues related to the Appalachian Mountain crossing. But crossing Park Service land would have required congressional approval, which Dominion apparently thought would be hard to get.

When commenting on FERC’s draft EIS, the Forest Service offered numerous objections to FERC on the proposed Dominion route. But FERC did not consider some of those objections in its final EIS, and the Forest Service raised no objections when its input was ignored. Dominion has criticized the court’s December decision on a number of grounds.

“With this decision, the Fourth Circuit has undermined the judgment of the dedicated professionals at nearly every federal agency that has reviewed this project,” stated Karl R. Neddenien, spokesperson for Dominion Energy. “All of these agencies agree that the Forest Service has the full legal authority to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s crossing of the Appalachian Trail. By installing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline more than 600 feet below the surface of the Appalachian Trail, we will completely avoid any impacts to the Trail or its public use.”

The court decision threw an extra bit of fire into its unhappiness with the FERC, by referring to the Commission’s FEIS, which cited the Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline as an example of an existing pipeline in the Appalachian Mountains that safely crosses karst terrain.

“Significantly, during the briefing of this case, a landslide in Marshall County, West Virginia, caused the Columbia pipeline – highlighted by the Forest Service for its safety and stability – to rupture and explode,” the court wrote. Clearly, the Forest Service’s concerns about landslide risks and pipeline safety highlighted in its” Oc. 24, 2016, letter deserve serious consideration, for the protection of both the environment and the public.”

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