DC Circuit Deals Defeat to Tennessee Pipeline Opponents

WASHINGTON (CN) – While critical of the government’s environmental review, the D.C. Circuit declined Tuesday to block the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. crafted the project as part of an effort to transport pressurized natural gas into the southeast from a handful of gas compression facilities in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed off on the plan in 2016, however, several Nashville residents who lived close to one of the facilities accused the commission of failing to look closely enough at how the project would affect the environment, including the additional gas people at the end of the pipeline would use as a result.

On Tuesday the D.C. Circuit denied the petition for review, despite conceding that there were some flaws with how the commission studied the project’s broader environmental impacts.

“Taking the record as it currently stands, we have no basis for concluding that the commission acted unreasonably in declining to evaluate downstream combustion impacts as part of its indirect effects analysis,” the court’s unsigned opinion states.

Carolyn Elefant, an attorney for the pipeline challengers, said the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning was “completely wrong,” and that the court went out of its way to avoid sending the case back to the commission.

“It’s completely wrong and the court just bent over backwards to give FERC a pass,” Elefant said in a phone interview Tuesday.

All members of the group Concerned Citizens for a Safe Environment, the challengers said FERC did not consider other places the Nashville station could have been built.

A spokeswoman for FERC declined to comment on the decision.  

As noted in the ruling, D.C. Circuit precedent requires the commission to examine both the direct and indirect environmental impacts of a proposed pipeline project, including greenhouse gas emissions from increased gas consumption at the end of the pipeline project.

Though the commission admitted here that it did not consider whether the project would increase the production or the consumption of gas at either end of the pipeline if the project were completed, it argued that determining the exact impact of the project on emissions would be impossible because the last stop for the gas transported via the pipeline is largely unknown. The commission also said it did not need to look further into the impact on emissions because there is the potential that the gas will replace other, dirtier fuels wherever it ends up.

The court said the commission was wrong in its interpretation of its obligations under the court’s precedent, and it blasted the commission for making “no effort” to get more information about potential changes to gas production and consumption that would come from the project.

Despite these issues, however, the court said the group of people challenging the decision did not raise objections to the commission’s information gathering in earlier proceedings before the commission, leaving the court incapable of reaching a decision.

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