News Briefs: Lawsuit challenges fossil fuel approvals; local climate advocates join virtual Earth Day event

Instead of including the considerations, FERC has maintained that all downstream emissions and climate impacts are inherently unforeseeable, and has thus asserted that the climate impacts of gas infrastructure is effectively zero.

Climate lawsuit challenges commission’s failure to factor greenhouse gas emissions in fossil fuel approvals

Pittsfield — Berkshire Environmental Action Team filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the D.C. Circuit Court that could have enormous implications for the country’s ability to reduce carbon emissions in line with international climate goals.

The lawsuit, Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, charges that the national body that regulates new gas infrastructure projects is failing to consider the climate impacts of the pipelines and related infrastructure that it is tasked with reviewing.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees all interstate gas projects, has been flouting court orders for almost three years, following a D.C. Circuit decision requiring it to meaningfully consider the “downstream” greenhouse gas emissions of pipeline projects — essentially the combustion activities associated with fossil gas facilitated by these pipelines.

Instead of including these considerations, FERC has maintained that all downstream emissions and climate impacts are inherently unforeseeable, and has thus asserted that the climate impacts of gas infrastructure is effectively zero. The commission’s current policy is to restrict emissions reviews to solely the construction phase of a given project.

The project at the center of the lawsuit is the 261 Upgrade Project, which consists of two miles of new pipeline and a new 11,000 horsepower compressor unit near Springfield. FERC granted the project its certificate in December 2019. Shortly thereafter Food & Water Watch and BEAT filed for rehearing, which was denied in late February.

The commission did not approve the project unanimously. In his dissent, Commissioner Richard Glick pointed out that “claiming that a project has no significant environmental impacts while at the same time refusing to assess the significance of the project’s impact on the most important environmental issue of our time is not reasoned decision-making.”

In addition to FERC’s failure to address climate impacts, the “necessity” argument for this project is based on outdated precedent agreements with two companies, one of which has since withdrawn support for the project, while the other — Columbia Gas — was subsequently banned from operating in the state of Massachusetts after a deadly explosion in Lawrence and Andover in 2018. The company pleaded guilty to felony charges and paid $53 million, the largest criminal fine in history under the Natural Gas Act. The company’s current operations in the state are in flux.

A positive outcome in the case would not only force FERC to consider climate impacts, but would also prevent additional harm to residents already suffering from the existing gas infrastructure. “With an estimated emissions load of an additional 477,000 tons per year, the project is in clear violation of Massachusetts state mandate to reduce emissions, the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said BEAT executive director Jane Winn. “Aside from these climate concerns, the neighboring city, Springfield, wedged between the compressor station site in Agawam and the location for the newly proposed TGP meter station in Longmeadow, has been deemed by the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America as the ‘Most Challenging Place to Live with Asthma.’ Adding more emissions to a region already struggling with ozone pollution issues is an unsafe and unreasonable prospect.”

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Local climate advocates will join nationwide virtual Earth Day event

Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D. Photo courtesy Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Lee — On Saturday, April 25, members of the Berkshires chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby will participate in “Uniting from Home: A virtual CCL event with Katharine Hayhoe.” Taking place on Zoom, the event will allow attendees to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and take action on climate change while respecting public health recommendations for social distancing.

The event will feature keynote speaker Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D., who is a climate scientist, an evangelical Christian, and the creator of the educational show “Global Weirding” on PBS.

The event will also include several breakout sessions:

  • “Climate Advocate Training,” so those new to climate advocacy can learn how to effectively push Congress for climate change legislation;
  • “Climate Organizing During the Pandemic,” for those already engaged in climate advocacy to learn to adapt their work for current COVID-19 circumstances; and
  • “Depolarizing Within,” during which attendees can practice holding respectful climate conversations with people who don’t share their political beliefs.

During the event, attendees will also be guided through three simple actions they can take to help the climate right then and there.

“It’s important that we continue to educate our communities about the climate crisis and build political will for major climate legislation,” said CCL executive director Mark Reynolds. “Though right now Congress is focused on the pandemic, they will need to turn their attention back to climate change soon enough. When that happens, our volunteers will be there with clear policy suggestions.”