December 2021, Vol. 248, No. 12


FERC Punts on GHG ‘Significance’ Again

By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor, Washington D.C.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) continues to hesitate in determining whether greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new pipeline projects are a “significant” contribution to climate change.   

The latest example is the FERC draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on Spire’s Clear Creek pipeline/compression project in Wyoming. In the draft EIS published at the end of October, the FERC staff stated: “We are unable to determine significance regarding the project’s impacts on climate change. However, we acknowledge the project would increase the atmospheric concentration of GHGs, in combination with past and future emissions from all other sources and would contribute to climate change.”  

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last August slapped the FERC’s wrist for failing to do a more thorough job of at least trying to estimate the “significance” of a project’s GHG emissions on climate change.   

That decision was called Vecinos para el Bienestar de la Comunidad Costera v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It had to do with Texas LNG and pipeline projects. The Appeals Court cited provisions in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which in some readings of that law requires a “significance” determination.   

The Biden White House Council on Environmental Quality announced in October it was revising NEPA policies and any final pronouncement is apt to force federal agencies to compute GHG emissions using a tool called the “social cost of carbon (SCC)” or some similar method.  

The D.C. Appeals Court in Vecinos suggested the FERC might trying using the SCC tool which estimates the monetized damages associated with incremental increases in greenhouse gas emissions, based on complex models describing how greenhouse gas emissions affect global temperatures, sea level rise and other biophysical processes; how these changes affect society through agricultural, health, and other impacts; and monetary estimates of the market and nonmarket values of these impacts.   

The Bureau of Land Management became the first federal agency to mandate use of the SCC tool on November 1 when it announced it would be using the tool when issuing draft environmental assessments regarding proposed oil and gas lease sales to be held in 2022.   

The Republican-majority FERC has not been sympathetic to the SCC tool. That may change when Willie Phillips Jr., President Biden’s nominee for the fifth seat at FERC, is confirmed by the Senate.   

The Senate Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing on Phillips’ nomination on Oct. 19. Phillips will be the third Democratic appointee on the commission, giving Chairman Richard Glick a deciding vote where Glick determines a more thorough climate change analysis is due either via the SCC tool or some other method allowing the FERC to do what it did not do in either the Spire Clear Creek draft EIS or the Texas LNG EIS, which was the subject of the August Appeals Court decision.   

Phillips’ ascension to FERC could also affect the commission’s vote on the Spire Clear Creek compression project as well as another Spire project hanging in the balance at FERC, the STL Pipeline, which is waiting for the FERC to determine if it can continue to operate. The same federal appeals court in Washington, which issued Vecinos also issued a second decision in June setting aside FERC’s earlier approval in 2018 of Spire’s 65-mile gas pipeline from Illinois into Missouri.  

The court said regulators “failed to consider evidence of self-dealing” by Spire in building the pipeline.   

Jason Merrill, a spokesman for Spire, says the Spire STL Pipeline has a short-term certificate keeping the pipeline in operation through Dec. 13. “Our application for a temporary emergency certificate for the rest of winter heating season is still under review,” he explains.   

Phillips could have a say on STL and will probably have a say on Clear Creek, where GHG emissions will be a sticking point. The staff draft EIS says construction emissions from the project could potentially increase CO2e emissions, based on the national 2019 levels by 0.00014%.  

The staff went on to explain, “Additionally, we are unaware of an established threshold for determining the project’s significance when compared to established GHG reduction targets at the state or federal level.”  

Spire’s Clear Creek Expansion Project in Uinta County, Wyoming, would include four compressor units at the Clear Creek plant, approximately 7 miles of 20-inch pipeline, approximately 3.6 miles of 24-inch pipeline and other facilities.  

Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}