May 15, 2020

Tensions around natural gas pipelines increase with pandemic

Tensions around natural gas pipelines increase with pandemic

WASHINGTON – A longstanding political battle over the construction of natural gas pipelines is intensifying amid the coronavirus pandemic as clean energy advocates increase pressure on government not to let up on climate change.

Democratic attorneys general from 10 states and the District of Columbia are urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to stop permitting gas pipelines, LNG facilities and other fossil fuel projects until the “end of the COVID-19 crisis.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed even greater burdens on communities attempting to organize their interests and participate in commission proceedings,” the attorneys general wrote in a letter to FERC last week. “COVID-19 has required individuals and state and local governments to attend to matters of pressing, existential urgency. The federal government and its agencies, including the Commission, must acknowledge that fact, and modify their practices accordingly.”

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The moves come as the Trump administration is working on an update of federal environmental rules to limit states’ ability to block pipelines because of climate change, amid increasing tension about the future of fossil fuels.

Politicians worldwide are moving towards expanding wind and solar energy at the same time investors and banks are pulling back from pipeline, export terminals and related projects that cost billions of dollars and are built to last decades.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is weighing whether to Tulsa-based Williams Co. from building a 37-mile gas pipeline off his state’s coastline, as he has other pipeline projects running through New York.

“Opponents of the pipeline argue that a decades-long investment in fossil fuels is a direct contradiction of New York’s clean energy goals,” said Ben Rubin, a spokesman for the advocacy group Climate Nexus. “Moving forward, the expansion of natural gas-fired power plants will bring increased emissions rather than environmental benefits.”

So far commissioners at FERC, which must sign off on natural gas pipeline and LNG projects, are moving ahead on permitting.

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In a letter to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring Tuesday, Chairman Neil Chatterjee said FERC was taking steps to ensure the public could participate in its proceedings.

“It is imperative that the commission continue to operate as close to normal as possible,” he wrote, “so that the energy sector is well-positioned to contribute not only to Virginia’s economy but also to the nation’s economy as a whole.”

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