An agreement touted by Chairman Neil Chatterjee last month as a "significant" breakthrough in FERC's evaluation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal applications may not live up to the hype, according to at least one Commissioner.
"The alleged breakthrough was anything but a breakthrough," Commissioner Richard Glick said during unusually pointed remarks at FERC's public meeting in Washington, DC, Thursday.
Last month, FERC said it had “reached an agreement that may provide a path forward for consideration of LNG export terminals,” and quickly applied the new approach in approving Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass LNG export project in Cameron Parish, LA.
"This is significant, as I anticipate we'll be able to use the framework developed in this order to evaluate the other LNG certificates that the Commission is considering," FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said at the time. The breakthrough consisted of "a new approach for consideration of direct greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] from LNG facilities," according to FERC, and the U.S. Department of Energy applauded the new approach, saying it would streamline and improve the LNG terminal application process.
Glick, one of two Democratic FERC Commissioners, cast the lone vote against the Calcasieu project.
"I dissented from that order because, no matter what they said, the majority again refused to consider the impact the project will have on climate change...It's not enough for FERC to acknowledge that its decision will affect the environment; rather, the Commission must, under the law, consider whether the impact will be significant," Glick said Thursday. "That analysis simply wasn't done in this case."
"...The Commission, after taking greenhouse gas emissions out of the equation completely, then found that the project's environmental impacts will not be significant, and as a result, the project's in the public's interest...The majority is saying that the Commission is going to be willfully ignorant no matter how many tons of greenhouse gas emissions a project emits. We would never do that in any other context...
"Yes, the Commission calculates the project's greenhouse gas emissions, and yes, the environmental impact statement points out that climate change is going to have dramatic effects in the Southeast, where the project is going to be located. But the majority refuses to connect those emissions to climate change, which we are required to do under the law."
The other Democrat at FERC, Cheryl LaFleur, voted for authorization of the Calcasieu project, but disagreed with the Commission's decision not to disclose or discuss certain GHG emissions associated with the project and how to incorporate those emissions in cumulative impact analysis.
"We have been treating climate impacts differently than all the other environmental impacts that we look at in our environmental reviews," LaFleur said. "Commission staff has developed frameworks for grappling with every other identifiable and measurable environmental impact...But we don't do that for climate change impacts. Instead, we say we can't figure out how to do it, and that's the reason we don't do more meaningful analysis in our orders. I don't believe this approach is going to be sustainable over the long term."
A series of court decisions have signaled that federal agencies, including FERC, should be doing more in their environmental reviews of projects to consider climate impacts, LaFleur said. In the latest example, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management did an inadequate job of considering the effects of climate change when it authorized oil and gas lease sales in the West, and he ordered a temporary halt to drilling on more than 300,000 acres in Wyoming.
"I think the criticism has a lot of potential parallels with our own work, and I think we'd be well served by getting out in front of this issue and trying to address it proactively, rather than waiting for courts to tell us to," LaFleur said.
But Republican Bernard McNamee came to the defense of the FERC's "breakthrough" Calcasieu analysis, which he said was a rare example of Washington avoiding gridlock.
"We showed that we could come together, compromise, and come to a way forward on something that's important to the country, that fulfills our obligations under the Natural Gas Act and under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]," McNamee said. "It's something I'm proud of, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with my fellow Commissioners, all four of us, even when we disagree."