By Gaige Davila
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has some explaining to do.
The Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit ruled that FERC failed to adequately explain the climate and environmental justice impacts of two proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) export plants slated for construction in the Port of Brownsville.
Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG, the two remaining LNG projects in the Port of Brownsville after Annova LNG abandoned their project earlier this year, received environmental impact statement approvals in 2019, a key to their ability to progress to building.
The Sierra Club, the City of Port Isabel, and “Vecinos para el Bienestar de la Comunidad Costera,” a group of local residents from Laguna Heights, filed the lawsuit against FERC earlier this year.
The Court issued two opinions: an unpublished opinion dismissing some of the claims brought by the group about the Rio Grande LNG terminal and the ozone analysis; and a published saying FERC only analyzed the environmental justice impacts of the communities within a two mile radius of the proposed LNG facilities, even though FERC had said in their environmental justice review that the facilities could impact people within 31 miles of the facilities via air quality, for example.
“By restricting the size of who would be considered an impacted population, FERC chose then to just compare that population with the rest of Cameron County, to say, ‘everyone that could be potentially impacted is an environmental justice community, therefore, there are no environmental justice concerns here,” Jennifer Richards, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Defense Aid who represented the Laguna Heights residents, told the PRESS.
The groups argue that FERC’s restriction was “artificial,” considering how many communities are just outside of the Port of Brownsville.
The court said FERC had to either extend the scope of their environmental justice impact review or explain why the scope they chose was so narrow.
FERC won’t face any penalty, keeping their authorization of the proposed LNG facilities. Meaning both Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG, regardless of FERC’s response to the court, can continue to develop their plants.
Both of the plants still have some work to do before they can put shovels in the ground. Neither of the LNG companies have final investment decisions and are still missing permits required before they can construct their plants.
Regardless, Richards said the ruling is still an important step towards climate justice.
“The victory lies in a court order saying that FERC, and other federal agencies in the future, have to take seriously their obligation to evaluate environmental justice concerns and climate change concerns,” Richards said. “These concerns are valid and they deserve to be recognized and they deserve to be dealt with.”
Richards also notes that FERC will have to reexamine, as outlined in the court’s order, whether the communities are still interested in LNG projects.
“Before the Commission can say these projects are in the public interest, it needs to evaluate their environmental justice impacts on communities like Laguna Heights where residents lack adequate access to healthcare and rely on local fishing and tourism economies for their livelihood,” Richards said in a press release. “The Court’s decision will hopefully prompt FERC to do just that.”
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