The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairwoman has a message for activists urging the agency to measure far-reaching effects of greenhouse gas emissions from new gas export terminals and pipelines: It's not FERC's job.
FERC Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur said the agency is already assessing direct emissions from projects under its reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
But there's no reliable formula, FERC says, for measuring the local or global environmental impacts of cumulative emissions from any pipeline, compressor station or liquefied natural gas export terminal.
Somebody else has to figure out how to crunch those numbers, LaFleur said.
"To the extent an environmental regulator were to establish new rules or guidelines relating to emissions analyses, the commission would take that into account in performing its NEPA review," she said in a statement.
But the nation's top environmental regulator, U.S. EPA, maintains that FERC has the tools it needs to make the emissions assessment.
There are "many well developed tools for estimating greenhouse gas emissions from projects, which agencies, including FERC, can draw on in considering environmental impacts in the NEPA process," EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee said in an email.
Because the NEPA analysis is "intentionally tailored to the individual project situation," there's no single answer that applies in all cases, she wrote. For example, the Department of Energy, she said, has analyzed the environmental impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from some energy projects.
"FERC and other agencies can draw on [that analysis when] doing their NEPA analyses," Lee said.
FERC's consideration of climate impacts as it decides whether to greenlight a gas project has become a contentious issue with activists accusing the agency of too blithely approving new gas projects (Greenwire, Nov. 3).
Green groups in recent months have taken to protests and risking arrest at FERC's Washington, D.C., headquarters, and have called on President Obama to require more aggressive climate assessments of gas export hubs, even as Congress moves toward fast-tracking overseas sales (Greenwire, Nov. 4).
FERC insists it doesn't have a way to gauge the effects that emissions from one project will have on the environment.
And the commission has said it has found the DOE study Lee mentioned to be of little use in its NEPA analyses.
In approving Dominion Resources Inc.'s $3.8 billion liquefaction project for Cove Point, Md., in late September, FERC rejected criticism that it had not adequately analyzed the project's direct, cumulative and indirect emissions. It said there's no "standard methodology" for gauging how one project's incremental emissions would affect global warming.
FERC also said that it considered a DOE report that attempted to address possible global warming impacts from LNG export terminals. That study found LNG exports for power production in Europe and Asia wouldn't increase emissions when compared to mining or burning coal for 100 years, a point that fueled debate with green groups rallying to halt fossil fuel extraction and the Keystone XL pipeline (Greenwire, June 10).
Ultimately, FERC said it wasn't tasked with reviewing emissions from the consumption of U.S. gas abroad and found DOE's model provided little help.
"We had no cause to attempt to assess air emissions, or the climate change impacts of such emissions, from the ultimate consumption of gas exported from the Cove Point LNG Project because the end use is not part of the project before us," FERC said. "We therefore find that the DOE's life cycle reports and comments we received regarding the reports are not informative to our decision making here."
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