US FERC pulls back from expanded environmental reviews for gas projects
The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission looks to be withdrawing from a practice of doing environmental impact statements (EISs) for most projects that add capacity and have incremental greenhouse gas emissions, which might shorten natural gas project assessment processes. The commission issued updated notifications on Jan. 27 scheduling environmental assessments (EAs) for three pipeline expansion projects, setting dates several months earlier than originally scheduled EISs. FERC's current practice of often resorting to EISs, even for some smaller projects with potential increased GHG emissions, arose from Chairman Richard Glick's attempts to determine how the commission would assess GHG and climate consequences related with gas infrastructure expansions. Glick said that completing EISs where there were additional GHG emissions would assist make FERC's decisions more legally durable in the face of legal challenges and in response to federal appeals court guidance. According to Christi Tezak, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, the shift in dates for the three projects might be an early hint that Phillips is moving toward a middle ground on where he wants to take the gas project certificate evaluations and FERC's draft policy statements, and may concentrate on direct emissions and mitigation while disregarding indirect consequences. Still, Moneen Nasmith, senior attorney with Earthjustice, said the change in timeline for the three projects raises major concerns. Because of the disparities in the dates for parties to intervene, it presents a serious challenge for public participation for the three projects with revised timelines. Nasmith was also concerned that returning to an EA would imply a presumption that the projects will have no substantial environmental effect.