The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked a federal court Friday to end its ruling blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline project in Florida in a major case that could hold sway over all future pipeline projects.
FERC said it has complied with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal's Aug. 22 decision to redo its original environmental review for the pipeline, taking into consideration the effects of greenhouse gas emissions from the power plants that the pipeline would supply. A three-judge panel killed FERC's permit that allowed a pipeline to be built in Florida because it said the commission did not consider the effects of climate change caused by the natural gas that would be shipped through the project.
"Yet the court's judgment – remand with vacatur – stands as a barrier to compliance," the commission said, as it appealed the court's decision Friday. "The commission seeks limited panel rehearing of the court's decision to vacate the agency orders on review, to allow the court to consider overlooked or misapprehended points of law and fact."
The most important part of FERC's request is that it does not want the court's decision to interfere with the construction of the pipeline. Under the Aug. 22 order, the court's mandate to kill the project's permit would mean the pipeline would not be able to go forward and construction would be suspended.
"Notwithstanding this narrow finding and directive, the court remanded and vacated the commission's certificate orders ... without any explanation of the decision to vacate the orders," FERC argued. "And, under the court's judgment, the commission has only 52 days to comply with the court's mandate, or the pipelines' certificate authority will be vacated, requiring them, in the absence of further relief, to cease construction and/or operations."
FERC argues that the court's decision would unfairly terminate the entire pipeline permit approval over what it considered one flaw in its environmental assessment. The lack of evaluation of the downstream emissions of power plants should not upend FERC's entire approval, especially in light of the commission's reconsideration of the environmental review, it argued.
"Thus, the court's decision faults the commission for inadequately considering one aspect of its environmental review, yet fails to afford the commission sufficient time to complete its review in the manner the National Environmental Policy Act contemplates before the negative consequences of vacatur occur," the motion says. "That judgment has significant implications for this case and, possibly, future natural gas pipeline cases."
An industry consortium backing the Sabal Trail pipeline also filed an appeal for rehearing, requesting the court modify its Aug. 22 decision.
Sabal Trail pipeline is a crucial segment of the much larger 700-mile Southeast Market Pipelines Project to move natural gas across a number of states to Florida power plants.
The lawsuit against FERC's permit approval for Sabal Trail was led by environmentalists at the Sierra Club, which has hailed the decision as a major victory for environmentalists opposing fossil fuel use.
Many scientists blame the burning of fossil fuels for causing the average temperature of the Earth to warm over time, resulting in sea-level rise, more severe weather, drought, and more flooding.