Saturday 17 November 2018

In late August, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of a Southeastern natural gas pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Court found that FERC failed to quantify the climate impacts that would result from burning the natural gas that the Sabal Trail pipeline would deliver to power plants in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

According to the Court, FERC’s environmental impact statement (required under NEPA) 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… 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 Court reasoned that quantifying greenhouse gas pollution from pipeline projects would enable FERC to compare potential emissions to other projects and to the total emissions from the state, region, and nation for emissions-control goals. This information is essential for ‘informed decision making’ and ‘informed public comment,’ according to the Court.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision is long overdue – for too long FERC has rubberstamped project after project from the natural gas industry without fully considering the significant climate change impacts that these projects will cause. This is the first case in a line of cases to successfully challenge FERC’s lack of consideration for increased greenhouse gas emissions that result from major projects like this pipeline,” said Waterkeepers Chesapeake’s Executive Director, Betsy Nicholas.

For years, environmental organizations have argued that FERC must consider climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emissions when reviewing major projects, like the Sabal Trail pipeline.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Earthjustice, and other environmental groups led one of the more recent challenges against FERC for failing to consider potential climate change impacts that would result from increased fracking due to the construction and operation of a fracked gas export facility in southern Maryland. Dominion Energy’s Cove Point facility is poised to cause more greenhouse gas pollution than all of Maryland’s coal-fired power plants combined. While, the Court ultimately found that FERC was not required to consider ‘indirect effects’ like increased fracking and associated climate impacts in its approval of the facility – this case was important in that it introduced the Court to the potential impacts that arise from fossil fuels infrastructure.

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On August 16, 2017, on behalf of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Assateague Coastkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and more than 70 organizations, representing thousands of businesses and citizens, Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) submitted comments asking the Trump Administration to reject offshore drilling in the Atlantic. SELC released this statement:

The comments said “Opening the Atlantic to offshore oil and gas drilling poses a direct threat to the fragile and unique ecosystems of the southeast coast and to the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on our clean coastal resources.”

The comments specifically argue against offshore drilling in the Southeast because:

  • Coastal communities and governors in the region strongly oppose drilling on the coast;
  • Drilling would harm the tourism and ocean economies along the coast;
  • Drilling would threaten unique and sensitive shorelines, valuable salt marshes, barrier islands, productive marine habitats and fisheries, and numerous areas designated for state and federal protection;
  • Drilling would conflict with many important uses for these ocean areas, including Department of Defense and NASA operations, commercial and recreational fisheries, and renewable energy development;
  • Chronic pollution and the risk of catastrophic oil spills, especially given the lax oversight and regulatory environment, present too great of a threat to the Atlantic coast;
  • The oil and gas industry’s economic projections are based on faulty assumptions that overestimate jobs and income, while discounting the existing tourism- and recreation-based economies; and
  • The United States should invest in and develop clean, renewable energy sources instead of wasting resources on developing dirty energy sources.

“There is overwhelming opposition to drilling from coastal communities, elected officials across the political spectrum, local businesses, and commercial and recreational fishing groups,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “These individuals, communities, and businesses have recognized that the risks of drilling outweigh any potential benefits. We will not gamble with our coast.”

Today’s comments come after President Trump signed an executive order in April reopening the issue of offshore drilling in the Atlantic, among other areas. At the same time, the Trump administration is clearing the way for offshore drilling by fast tracking the process for approving seismic testing to identify offshore oil and gas deposits. Even before drilling is underway, seismic blasting is likely to cause significant harm to marine mammals like the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the bottlenose dolphin, as well as commercially valuable fisheries.  

Almost 130 East Coast cities and towns, including Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Savannah, and hundreds of businesses, trade groups, and tourism associations have passed resolutions opposing Atlantic drilling and seismic testing.  Most recently, Virginia Beach and Norfolk joined the opposition, passing anti-drilling resolutions that reversed their earlier support.  Republican and Democratic elected representatives at the state and federal level have voiced opposition to drilling off the Atlantic coast, including North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.

In March of 2016, the Obama Administration decided to scrap a controversial plan to open the Southeast coast to industrial oil and gas drilling for the first time, a move that would dramatically change coastal communities and jeopardize coastal economies. The Southeast coast is built around a thriving tourism industry that attracts visitors from around the world to the pristine beaches, picturesque coastal communities, and beautiful waters that could be devastated with a single major oil spill. Even without a catastrophic accident, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, and traffic—would irreparably change coastal communities and the thriving tourism economy.

To read a full copy of the comments, please click here.

Alarmed with the Potential Detriment to the Environment, Coalition Calls for Assessment, Rejection of TransCanada’s Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project

Baltimore, MD — On Tuesday August 8, a letter signed by 18 state and local environmental organizations was delivered to Secretary Ben Grumbles of the Maryland Department of the Environment. The signatories demand that MDE use its authority to conduct a thorough evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project pipeline. The letter suggests that once MDE diligently carries out its obligation to Marylanders to examine the full impacts, the agency will see no other option than to reject the proposed pipeline project. The letter asserts that MDE will find rejecting the project will be the only way to protect the health of Maryland’s waterways and communities.

This four-mile pipeline would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, and would travel through Maryland, just west of Hancock. The proposed path of the pipeline crosses directly under the C&O Canal and the Potomac River, the primary drinking water source for more than 6 million people.

The letter asks:

We urge MDE not to rush through its review of this Project. Protection of Maryland’s streams, rivers, and wetlands is too important to place at risk. MDE must take the time needed to ensure it has all necessary information, review that information, give the public an opportunity to thoroughly review and comment on the information at a public hearing, and then conduct a thorough and transparent analysis of the significant potential impacts of the Project on critical water crossings and all related upland and downstream activities.

Overwhelming scientific evidence, along with the recent § 401 certification denials for two proposed pipeline in New York State, confirm the inherent public health and environmental dangers with pipelines and associated infrastructure. This Project will likely have significant adverse impacts on water quality, aquatic habitat, and public health, especially when considered together with the cumulative impacts of the proposed Mountaineer Gas pipeline in West Virginia. Yet Maryland will not gain any benefits from the pipeline’s construction and operation. If MDE cannot impose conditions adequate to minimize these impacts, it should consider denying the application. Given the recent concerns and problems using HDD to construct pipelines in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the unique geologic features present in this Project, we are gravely concerned that no set of conditions will be adequate. We firmly believe that, once MDE conducts its required § 401 certification analysis in the proper, comprehensive manner dictated by the Clean Water Act, it will ultimately conclude that certification for this Project is not warranted.

Signatories of the letter include:

AMP Creeks Council

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility

Clean Water Action


Food & Water Watch

Howard County Climate Action

Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA)

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association

Maryland Conservation Council

Maryland Environmental Health Network

Maryland Sierra Club

Nature Abounds

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Savage River Watershed Association

Upper Potomac Riverkeeper

Waterkeepers Chesapeake

We Are Cove Point


Contacts: Denise Robbins, CCAN, denise(at), 240-396-2022

Phillip Musegaas, PRKN, 202-888-4929, phillip(at)