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FERC Approves Okeechobee Lateral; LaFleur, Glick Again Express Climate Change Concerns

FERC has authorized Florida Southeast Connection LLC to construct and operate its proposed Okeechobee Lateral project, which would provide up to 400,000 Dth/d of firm transportation service to the Okeechobee Clean Energy Center in south central Florida.

The $30.1 million project would include a 5.2-mile long, 20-inch diameter pipeline lateral between milepost 77.2 of the Florida Southeast mainline and the Okeechobee Clean Energy Center in Okeechobee County, FL.

Florida Southeast filed a prior notice request for the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June 2017 [CP17-463]. Sierra Club filed a protest to that request, arguing that there is no evidence of a public need for the project or the Okeechobee Clean Energy Center. The environmental group also argued that the buildout of the power plant is contingent upon FERC approval of the lateral project, and so the environmental assessment (EA) for the project should have included a no-action alternative under which neither the plant nor the lateral are built.

FERC disagreed, concluding that the plant is not contingent upon approval of the lateral project. In an order issued May 30, the Commission denied Sierra Club's protest and approved a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the Okeechobee Lateral project.

But, in what has become a common theme in recent FERC votes, two commissioners, one concurring with the majority and another dissenting in part, expressed concerns about the Commission's need to consider climate change implications when analyzing natural gas projects.

"I am concurring today to note my continued disagreement regarding the Commission's determination that it is unable to discern the significance of downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions," Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur wrote in a statement attached to the FERC decision.

Richard Glick, who dissented in part from FERC's decision, said he did so for two reasons -- "First, I believe that the Commission cannot conclude that the project is in the public interest without first determining the significance of the project's contribution to climate change...[and] I disagree with the Commission's determination that precedent agreements among affiliates are, by themselves, sufficient to show that a natural gas pipeline is needed."

In recent weeks, LaFleur and Glick have made similar statements regarding other projects before the Commission. In March, a divided FERC reinstated certification for a trio of Southeast natural gas pipelines, disappointing environmental groups that had previously convinced a federal appeals court that the Commission had failed to adequately consider the impact of GHG emissions. FERC voted 3-2 to reinstate certifications for the proposed Southeast Market Pipelines (SMP) project, which includes the Sabal Trail, Hillabee Expansion and Florida Southeast Connection pipeline projects, with Glick and LaFleur dissenting, although LaFleur only dissented in part.

Last month, FERC by another 3-2 vote denied a request for rehearing of its April 2016 decision to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for Dominion Transmission Inc.'s New Market project, with the majority declaring that it would continue to take into account proposed pipelines' potential GHG emissions, but not their impacts on natural gas production and consumption. LaFleur and Glick, the two Democrats on the Commission, voted against the order, saying a project's upstream and downstream natural gas production and consumption are indirect impacts that should be considered when reviewing applications.

"As in Sabal Trail, the Commission has quantified and disclosed the downstream GHG emissions of this project, but fails to determine the significance of those GHG emission estimates," LaFleur said in her statement in the Florida Southeast case. "I reject the contention that the Commission cannot ascribe significance to a given rate or volume of GHG emissions."

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