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DC Court Again Rejects Sierra Club’s Challenges to LNG Exports from Cove Point, Sabine Pass, Corpus Christi

A federal appeals court on Wednesday tossed lawsuits brought by the Sierra Club to thwart liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from projects in Maryland, Louisiana and Texas from moving forward.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (DC) Circuit struck down legal challenges to federal approvals for the Dominion Energy Cove Point LNG LP facility in Maryland, scheduled to begin exports this month; Cheniere Energy Inc.’s operating Sabine Pass LNG facility in Louisiana; and Cheniere’s Corpus Christi, TX, export project, due to ramp in 2018.

Sierra Club, as it has before, challenged Department of Energy (DOE) authority to approve LNG exports under the Natural Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Natural Gas Act. The case decided Wednesday is Sierra Club v. U.S. Department of Energy, No. 16-1186.

The three-judge panel followed its recent decisions for a series of lawsuits filed by environmental groups to prevent LNG export project approvals by DOE and FERC.

The same DC circuit court in August -- for the same reasons --rejected Sierra Club’s challenge to the DOE’s approval for worldwide gas exports from Freeport LNG on Quintana Island, TX.

“In a very recent case, Sierra Club v. U.S. Department of Energy (Freeport), this court denied a petition by Sierra Club challenging, under the same two statutes, the DOE approval of an LNG export application from a fourth facility,” wrote Judge David Tatel and Senior Judges Harry Edwards and David Sentelle.

The panel, in a four-page brief, sided with the DOE on the three issues raised in the lawsuit. Sierra Club questioned whether DOE should have conducted an environmental impact statement rather than an environmental assessment for Cove Point and Sabine Pass. It also claimed DOE ignored environmental information about how gas is produced onshore, often using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and it said DOE had not properly weighed public interest of the three export projects.

“The court’s decision in Freeport largely governs the resolution of the instant cases,” said the judges. None of the additional issues raised by Sierra Club were convincing, the court said.

Environmental groups have challenged not only DOE but also Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to approve LNG projects, which also have been rejected by the DC panel.

The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas’ Charlie Riedl, executive director, said Wednesday the group was “not surprised that the DC Circuit Court has again upheld DOE, further cementing its opinion earlier this year that the existing rigorous DOE review process appropriately considers the environmental impacts of these projects.

“We hope today's decision will put an end to the unnecessary and costly challenges by Sierra Club that delay LNG projects. The facts are clear and the court agrees: the regulatory review process for U.S. LNG projects provides a thorough review of both operational and environmental impacts before being approved."

Sierra Club attorney Nathan Matthews also responded to the court’s rejection.

“DOE is tasked with determining if proposed exports are in the public interest, and it is disappointing that the court has declined to hold the agency accountable for doing a real analysis that takes the costs for American communities into account," he said "We will continue to work to protect communities from the threats of fracked gas pollution."

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