Media Statements & Speeches
Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur
July 19, 2018
Docket No. CP17-80-000
Item No. C-1
Concurrence on Columbia Gas Transmission, L.L.C.’s Eastern Panhandle Project
“Today’s order grants Columbia’s request for authorization to construct and operate the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project (Eastern Panhandle Project). I believe the project is in the public interest after carefully balancing the need for the project and its environmental impacts. For the reasons discussed below, I concur.
“Columbia’s 3.37 mile Eastern Panhandle Project was designed and configured to meet Mountaineer Gas’ request for 47,500 dekatherms per day (Dth/day) of capacity. In this case, the Commission quantified and disclosed the upper-bound estimate of the downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the Eastern Panhandle Project.1 The volume of GHG emissions associated with the downstream use would result in about 1 percent increase in GHG emissions in West Virginia.2 Going forward, at a minimum, I believe we should continue to conduct this GHG quantification and analysis as part of our environmental review of pipeline projects.3
“In addition, I believe we could better account for changes in GHG emissions resulting from the combustion of the transported gas by calculating the Social Cost of Carbon which more accurately reflects the climate change impacts of a particular project.4 The order finds that there is no standard methodology to determine how a project’s contributionto GHG emissions would translate into physical effects on the environment for purposes of evaluating the Project’s impacts on climate change.5 But that is precisely the use for which the Social Cost of Carbon was developed—it is a scientifically-derived metric to translate tonnage of carbon dioxide or other GHGs to the cost of long-term climate harm.6 I believe the Social Cost of Carbon metric would more readily apply to a proposed pipeline project if we developed a fuller record to support a quantified cost-benefit approach to our pipeline reviews.7
“As for the upstream impacts associated with the Eastern Panhandle Project, the Commission declines to include even the generic upstream information we have been disclosing since 2016, finding such information to be irrelevant.8 I do not support this decision. While it is less clear that upstream effects are caused by the pipeline, I would respond to upstream GHG comments by disclosing whatever data we have using the best available information, such as the DOE studies cited in past orders. However, today’s order rejects that approach, and applies the Commission’s new policy that limits the review and disclosure of upstream and downstream GHG impacts as part of our National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) responsibilities and public interest determination under the Natural Gas Act (NGA). 9 I continue to note my strong disagreement with this change in policy.
“Finally, the order highlights another aspect of our environmental reviews that warrants further consideration. The non-jurisdictional Mountaineer Project, a 23-mile natural gas pipeline project to be located in West Virginia is being constructed concurrently with the Eastern Panhandle Project, and will interconnect with, and receive gas from, the Eastern Panhandle Project. Thus, facilities of both projects are integral to and interdependent upon each other. I believe that today’s order rightly concluded that the Mountaineer Project is not a connected, cumulative, or similar action, as defined by NEPA regulations. However, in my view, it would be appropriate for the Commission to develop a more robust approach to evaluating the environmental impacts of proposed non-jurisdictional pipeline projects, when the project, such as the one here, is closely related and dependent upon the jurisdictional pipeline project. Under our current approach, our environmental review of non-jurisdictional projects relies largely on the nature of information provided by the applicant. I believe, in cases such as this, we should request that pipeline applicants provide more specific environmental information about related non-jurisdictional projects.10 Here, Columbia provided limited details on the Mountaineer Project, therefore we were only able to disclose very limited information on the environmental impacts of the Mountaineer Project as part of our cumulative impacts analysis. I believe, where a non-jurisdictional pipeline project functions together with the jurisdictional one, we should seek more information in order to ensure a more comprehensive environmental review.
“For all of these reasons, I concur.”
1 The Environmental Assessment (EA) estimated that if all 47,500 dekatherms per day (Dth/d) of natural gas (or 46.6 MMcf/day) were transported to combustion end uses, downstream end-use would result in the emissions of about 920,000 metric tons of CO2e per year. Eastern Panhandle EA at 77.
2 Because the project would deliver gas to the Mountaineer Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project in West Virginia, Commission staff compared the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s West Virginia 2015 GHG emissions numbers to the full-burn GHG emissions calculation. Commission staff estimated a less than a 1 percent increase in GHG emissions in West Virginia and a 0.02 percent increase on the national level. https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/state/ and https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-02/documents/2017_complete_report.pdf.
One way the Commission could assess the significance of a given rate or volume of GHG emissions is to compare the downstream GHG emissions associated with an individual project to the total state, regional, and/or national emission inventories.
3 I recognize that this full-burn estimate is simply a mathematical derivative of pipeline volume, but I still want to disclose it and consider it as part of my public interest determination, particularly where there is not more precise evidence of downstream pipeline utilization. More information in the record regarding the identified end uses would enable the Commission to more accurately assess indirect impacts of downstream GHG emissions by calculating gross and net GHG emissions as part of our NEPA responsibilities. The record indicates that Mountaineer Gas is a local distribution company (LDC), so the gas will likely be burned for home heating or industrial uses.
4 Florida Southeast Connection, LLC, 162 FERC ¶ 61,233 (2018) (LaFleur, Comm’r, dissenting in part).
5 Columbia Gas Transmission, L.L.C., 164 FERC ¶ 61,036 at P 58 (2018).
7 I hope we discuss how the Commission could effectively use the Social Cost of Carbon, and more broadly, how the Commission should consider climate change impacts in our environmental reviews as part of the notice of inquiry on the Certificate Policy Statement. Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Facilities, Notice of Inquiry, 163 FERC ¶ 61,042 (2018).
8 The Commission has relied on recent DOE studies to provide generic estimates of impacts associated with upstream natural gas production, including production related GHG emissions. Commission orders that contained this generic upstream information acknowledged the limitations of providing such data because we did not have more detailed information such as the number, location, and timing of the wells, roads, and gathering lines as well as details about production methods. Dep’t of Energy and Nat’l Energy Tech. Laboratory, Life Cycle Analysis of Natural Gas Extraction and Power Generation, DOE/NETL-2015/1714 (Aug. 30, 2016) (2016 DOE/NETL Study); U.S. Energy Info. Admin., The Growth of U.S. Natural Gas: An Uncertain Outlook for U.S. and World Supply (June 15, 2015), http://www.eia.gov/conference/2015/pdf/presentations/staub.pdf; Dep’t of Energy and Nat'l Energy Tech. Laboratory, Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Production, DOE/NETL-2014/1651, (May 29, 2014) (2014 DOE/NETL Study).
9 See Dominion Transmission Inc., 163 FERC ¶ 61,128 (2018) (LaFleur, Comm’r, dissenting in part) (New Market).
10 When pipeline applicants provide more information on related non-jurisdictional projects, the Commission has disclosed that information in our NEPA documents. See Valley Crossing Pipeline, LLC, 161 FERC ¶ 61,084 (2017) (The EA included detailed information, including environmental impacts, of the non-jurisdictional Valley Crossing System in a “Related Facilities” section.). See also Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC, 157 FERC ¶ 61,081 (2016) (The EA, in the cumulative impacts section, evaluated the non-jurisdictional Trans-Pecos Pipeline outside the region of influence of the jurisdictional Presidio Border Crossing Project utilizing the best available data provided by the pipeline applicant.).
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