For Florida's large environmental community, Tuesday's 2—1 decision by a federal court panel to make federal regulators reconsider their approval of the Sabal Trail Pipeline was an all-too-rare victory.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's environmental impact statement for the project, the D.C. court ruled, does not pass muster due to the lack of consideration for the project's potential climate impacts, the News Service of Florida reported Tuesday.
From the majority opinion:
“We conclude that the EIS (environmental impact statement) for the … project should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so,” said the 35-page majority opinion, written by Judge Thomas Griffith and joined by Judge Judith Rogers. “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.”
The nascent Sabal Trail Pipeline snakes from Alabama to Florida via Georgia, and it ends in Central Florida, where it delivers natural gas to power electric plants for the likes of Duke Energy and FP&L.
Environmentalists have long been concerned that, in addition to doing little to cut into Floridians' dependence on fossil fuels, the project did cut into the state's delicate subterranean environs, which largely comprise a porous limestone aquifer that naturally stores much of the state's water supply.
Groups like the Sierra Club held passionate protests across the state, to no avail; the matter seemed to be a blind spot for lawmakers.
The one judge on the panel who dissented, appeals court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who reasoned that it wasn't in the purview of the feds to impose such restrictions; that state regulators are the ones who are supposed to be approving the power plants (however much, environmentalists argue, state regulators tend to ignore concerns about climate or pollution).
“While the court (majority) concludes FERC's approval of the proposed pipelines will be the cause of greenhouse gas emissions because a significant portion of the natural gas transported through the pipeline will be burned at power plants, the truth is that FERC has no control over whether the power plants that will emit these greenhouse gases will come into existence or remain in operation,” Brown wrote.
More info via WMNF News here.