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A federal appellate court late Wednesday denied a request by sponsors of a trio of Southeast natural gas pipelines to stay issuance of a mandate over the projects for 90 days, but it granted a FERC motion for a 45-day stay and will hold off until March 26.
Last month, the sponsors and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed separate motions with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asking the court to stay issuing a mandate for the proposed Southeast Market Pipelines (SMP) project in the case Sierra Club et al v. FERC, No. 16-1329.
SMP includes the Sabal Trail, Hillabee Expansion and Florida Southeast Connection pipeline projects.
The order effectively gives FERC more time to comply with the court's ruling last August that the Commission had failed to adequately consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) when it issued a favorable environmental impact statement (EIS) for SMP in December 2015. To help bolster its argument for a stay, FERC issued a final supplemental EIS for the project on Feb. 6, one day before it asked for the 45-day stay.
The court was poised to issue its mandate on Feb. 7, one week after denying petitions from FERC and the project sponsors for a rehearing on Jan. 31. March 26, a Monday, would be the first day of the workweek at the end of a 45-day countdown for the stay.
In a note to clients, analysts with ClearView Energy Partners LLC said they expect FERC ultimately would issue new certificates for the projects, which would further disappoint a coalition of environmental groups, led by the Sierra Club, that had urged the court to reject calls for a stay.
"We see the court's posture here as keeping the Commission's feet to the proverbial fire to remedy the shortcomings identified by the environmental petitioners expeditiously," ClearView analysts said. "FERC may have successfully bought additional time to fix the permit through its unsuccessful rehearing request in October and the shorter request for a stay of the mandate in early February, but the court declined to issue a blank check on timing.
"We expect the Commission to reissue the certificates” before March 26. “In the meantime, construction may continue and the components of the project in service may continue to operate."
Sabal Trail's joint venture partners are Enbridge Inc.'s Spectra Energy Partners LP, NextEra Energy Inc. and Duke Energy. SMP would provide about 1.1 Bcf/d to markets in Florida and the Southeast. The project calls for building 685.5 miles of pipeline and six compressor stations, as well as modifying existing compressor stations in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.