I wrote last month about a landmark court decision in U.S. energy. Where judges threatened to shut down the $3.5 billion Sabal Trail pipeline in Florida — because regulators hadn’t assessed climate change effects from the downstream burning of the pipeline’s natural gas for power.
At the time, I warned this would trigger more lawsuits — essentially opening up a new and powerful tool for environmental groups to oppose resource development.
And two cases this past week show that’s exactly what’s happening.
The first came in New York State. Where state regulators attempted to use last month’s Sabal Trail ruling as justification to shut down another pipeline project — a 7.8 mile natural gas line being proposed by Millennium Pipeline.
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation cited the ruling in denying key permits for the pipeline. With the project then going back to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for review.
FERC was able to salvage the project Friday. But only because of a procedural technicality — with the regulator pointing out that New York’s regulators were required to file any objections to the pipeline within a year of receiving the November 2015 application from Millennium Pipeline.
New York thus missed its window for appeal, and the pipeline will proceed. But another ruling elsewhere is going to be a lot more problematic for U.S. resource developers. Related: China To Dictate Energy Growth In Coming Years
That came in a federal U.S. appeals court Friday. Where judges upheld a lawsuit from environmentalists — saying that any leasing of coal projects on federal land must consider climate effects from the eventual burning of that coal.
Coal mining opponents have long been saying that environmental impact assessments of new coal mining projects should consider downstream climate impacts. With regulators up until now rejecting such arguments — saying that coal-fired plants will burn coal from somewhere, meaning that stopping one particular mine won’t solve climate issues.
But the new appeals court ruling said that national regulator Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must indeed consider downstream effects when granting new coal licenses. With judges directing the agency to reconsider permitting for four already-granted leases in Wyoming.
This is going to become a major issue going forward. As one environmental group representative put it: “This is big. And we’re certainly going to be wielding this and using it to confront other mining approvals.”
Watch for new coal mining projects to now get a lot more complicated in America. And for many more climate-related lawsuits coming against all kinds of energy projects.
By Dave Forest
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