This Pipeline Victory Could Have Major Implications for Climate Fights Ahead

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This Pipeline Victory Could Have Major Implications for Climate Fights Ahead

The federal commission charged with analyzing climate impacts of major fossil fuel project didn't do its job, says appeals court

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have fought the 500-mile Sabal Trail pipeline, which would carry fracked gas across wetlands in three states.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have fought the 500-mile Sabal Trail pipeline, which would carry fracked gas across wetlands in three states. (Photo: @AltLeftPress/Twitter)

Environmental groups on Tuesday were applauding a decision that could have an impact on future rulings on oil and gas industry projects.

An appeals court in Washington, D.C. sided with the Sierra Club when it rejected federal approval of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, which would carry gas through Alabama, Georgia, and Florida—noting that an environmental analysis of the pipeline, which failed to address its climate impact, was incomplete.

In a two-to-one vote, the court found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) report on the project did not provide complete information about the greenhouse gas emissions "that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport," according to an opinion written by Judge Thomas Griffin. The court ordered FERC to complete a second analysis or explain why it had not provided a complete overview of the project's climate impact.

"Today's decision requires FERC to fulfill its duties to the public, rather than merely serve as a rubber stamp for corporate polluters' attempts to construct dangerous and unnecessary fracked gas pipelines," said Sierra Club staff attorney Elly Benson following the ruling.

The expansive project includes a 515-mile stretch called the Sabal Trail Pipeline, which has been the subject of much concern among environmental groups. According to a statement by the Sierra Club when the group mounted its lawsuit, the pipeline "would transport fracked gas across 699 waterbodies, lakes, rivers, and streams and harm 1,958 wetland systems in three states."

The court's opinion on the case noted that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates environmental impact reviews of federal decisions, requires a "detailed statement discussing and disclosing the environmental impact" of projects, and that "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."

Environmental advocacy and progressive groups, including local contingents whose members would be impacted by the Sabal Trail, joined the Sierra Club in celebrating the court's decision:

While the pipeline's owners say they are still reviewing the court's decision, Florida Sierra Club representative Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson says the court's position matters to people who live in the affected area.

"This type of outcome shows them that they do have a voice, that they do matter and people do matter," she said. "Corporations think they can do whatever they want to people on the ground, but the reality is the citizens do matter and do count."

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