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Sierra Club v. FERC

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

April 18, 2017, Argued; August 22, 2017, Decided

No. 16-1329 Consolidated with 16-1387

Opinion

 [**332]  [*1363]   Griffith, Circuit Judge: Environmental groups and landowners have challenged the decision of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the construction and operation of three new interstate natural-gas pipelines in the southeastern United States. Their primary argument is that the agency's assessment of the environmental impact of the pipelines was inadequate. We agree that FERC's environmental impact statement did not contain enough information on the greenhouse-gas emissions that will result from burning the gas that the pipelines will carry. In all other respects, we conclude that FERC acted properly. We thus grant Sierra Club's petition for review and remand for preparation of a conforming environmental impact statement.

The Southeast Market Pipelines Project comprises three natural-gas pipelines now under construction in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. The linchpin of the project is the Sabal Trail pipeline, which will wend its way from Tallapoosa County in eastern Alabama, across southwestern Georgia, and down to Osceola County, Florida, just south of Orlando: a journey [***3]  of nearly five hundred miles. Sabal Trail will connect the other two portions of the project. The first—the Hillabee Expansion—will boost the capacity of an existing pipeline in Alabama, which will feed gas to Sabal Trail's upstream end for transport to Florida. At the downstream end of Sabal Trail will be the Florida Southeast Connection, which will link to a power plant in Martin County, Florida, 120 miles away. Shorter spurs will join Sabal Trail to other proposed and existing power plants and pipeline networks. By its scheduled completion in 2021, the project will be able to carry over one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

The three segments of the project have different owners,1 but they share a common  [**333]   [*1364]  purpose: to serve Florida's growing demand for natural gas and the electric power that natural gas can generate. At present, only two major natural-gas pipelines serve the state, and both are almost at capacity. Two major utilities, Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida, have already committed to buying nearly all the gas the project will be able to transport. Florida Power & Light claims that without this new project, its gas needs will begin to exceed its supply [***4]  this year. But the project's developers also indicate that the increased transport of natural gas will make it possible for utilities to retire older, dirtier coal-fired power plants.

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867 F.3d 1357 *; 432 U.S. App. D.C. 326 **; 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 15911 ***; 47 ELR 20104; 85 ERC (BNA) 1035

SIERRA CLUB, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT. DUKE ENERGY FLORIDA, LLC, ET AL., INTERVENORS

Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by, Rehearing, en banc, denied by, Motion granted by Sierra Club v. FERC, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2424 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 31, 2018)

Rehearing denied by, Motion granted by Sierra Club v. FERC, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2425 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 31, 2018)

On remand at Fla. Southeast Connection, LLC, 162 F.E.R.C. P61233, 2018 FERC LEXIS 369 (F.E.R.C., Mar. 14, 2018)

Prior History:  [***1] On Petitions for Review of Orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Fla. Southeast Connection, LLC, 156 F.E.R.C. P61160, 2016 FERC LEXIS 1518 (F.E.R.C., Sept. 7, 2016)Fla. Southeast Connection, LLC, 154 F.E.R.C. P61080, 2016 FERC LEXIS 138 (F.E.R.C., Feb. 2, 2016)

CORE TERMS

pipeline, certificate, emissions, environmental, environmental effect, natural gas, capital structure, effects, power plant, export, environmental-justice, downstream, landowners, license, hypothetical, route, greenhouse, approve, estimates, carbon, pollution, transport, terminal, Energy, plants, rates, facilities, investors, agencies, cases

Business & Corporate Compliance, Energy & Utilities Law, Natural Gas Industry, Natural Gas Act, Energy & Utilities Law, Administrative Proceedings, Judicial Review, Jurisdiction, Administrative Law, Reviewability, Standing, Constitutional Law, Case or Controversy, Standing, Elements, Particular Parties, Remedies, Environmental Law, Assessment & Information Access, Environmental Impact Statements, Environmental Law, Natural Resources & Public Lands, National Environmental Policy Act, Administrative Proceedings & Litigation, Judicial Review, Natural Gas Act, Certificates of Need, Pipelines & Transportation, Natural Gas Transportation, Pipelines, Rates, Standards of Review, Standards of Review, Substantial Evidence, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Appellate Briefs, Public Information, Sunshine Legislation, Open Meetings