The Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to federal energy regulators charging that their environmental review of a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Corpus Christi, Texas was “insufficient.”
EPA Region 6 says that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s environmental review of Cheniere Energy’s proposed Corpus Christi liquefied natural gas export terminal does not “contain enough information to fully consider environmental justice, wetlands, indirect effects and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Earlier this year, the Energy Department announced it was “streamlining” its LNG terminal approval process. The move was sold as a way to speed up LNG terminal approvals, but critics said it would allow environmental regulators and activists more opportunity to grind the approval process to a halt.
Environmental groups cheered the Energy Department’s “streamlining” of the LNG permitting process as it would no longer allow the government to approve LNG projects before an environmental impact report was issued.
“It’s never made sense to evaluate LNG exports without knowing the impact they would have on the environment and on our climate, so this announcement is a step in the right direction,” Sierra Club attorney Nathan Matthews said of the reforms.
Now LNG projects must wait until regulators complete a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review before they gain begin building an export or import terminal. The problem is that NEPA is a time-consuming process that 4.6 years to complete on average. Environmentalists also use the process to slow down projects and development through lawsuits.
According to the Government Accountability Office, there have been 129 NEPA lawsuits year on average between 2001 and 2008. Most of these lawsuits were brought by citizen and environmental groups.
Last month, FERC issued a draft environmental assessment of the Corpus Christi LNG project and found that “approval of the proposed Project, with the mitigation measures recommended in the [report], would ensure that impacts in the Project area would be avoided or minimized and would not be significant.”
“Construction and operation of the Project would result in mostly temporary and short-term environmental impacts;however, some long-term and permanent environmental impacts would occur,” FERC added.
But the EPA disagreed, saying FERC failed to identify several environmental impacts from the LNG project.
“EPA’s review identified a number of potential adverse impacts to aquatic resources, air quality, environmental justice populations, and wetlands,” wrote Craig Weeks, EPA’s Region 6 chief of planning and coordination, in a letter to FERC.
EPA’s concerns over the Corpus Christi terminal could spur environmental groups to step up their challenges against the project, potentially causing delays in the project’s approval.
Cheniere’s Corpus Christi LNG terminal is one of 16 proposed LNG export sites in the U.S. and Canada sitting before FERC for review. So far, FERC has only approved three such LNG export terminals, according to agency documents.
Republicans and the natural gas industry have been pressuring the Obama administration to speed up the approval process for LNG export terminals as U.S. gas production booms and companies want to get their fuels to higher prices markets overseas.
Last week, FERC approved its third LNG export project in Freeport, Texas. Likewise, an LNG project in Oregon became the seventh terminal to receive conditional approval from the Energy Department. However, only one LNG project has received approval from both FERC and the Energy Department.
“This has been a good week for those of us advocating for an expansion of our nation’s natural gas exports,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement last week. “Rising domestic production presents a golden opportunity to become a world leader in energy exports, while still meeting the full demand for gas at home.”
Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu has also been aggressively pushing federal regulators to approve LNG terminals in her home state as her re-election battle against Republican opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy heats up.
“These steps by FERC and DOE demonstrate that responsibly exporting LNG is clearly in the national interest of the United States,” Landrieu said said in a statement. “DOE and FERC need to maintain positive momentum for additional LNG exports and to process outstanding applications efficiently.”
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