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Congress has broadly instructed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") to consider the public convenience and necessity when evaluating applications to construct and operate interstate pipelines. 15 U.S.C.S. § 717f(e). FERC will balance the public benefits against the adverse effects of the project, including adverse environmental effects. Because FERC can deny a pipeline certificate on the ground that the pipeline would be too harmful to the environment, the agency is a legally relevant cause of the direct and indirect environmental effects of pipelines it approves.
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, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s ("FERC") environmental impact statement ("EIS") failed to adequately consider the project's contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions and its impact on low-income and minority communities. The Environmental groups further argued that the FERC used an insufficiently transparent process to approve the pipeline certificates.
Under the circumstances, was the FRC’s EIS inadequate?
The Court noted that Congress has broadly instructed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") to consider the public convenience and necessity when evaluating applications to construct and operate interstate pipelines. In this case, the court held that the EIS was deficient because the FERC, which had authority under 15 U.S.C.S. § 717f(e) to consider environmental effects including climate change, failed to estimate carbon emissions from power plants. According to the Court, the EIS 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. Accordingly, the petition was granted.