Court Pinches Pipeline on Climate Caution

August 23, 2017

People like Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin, for that matter,  have a tough time getting it that in a nation of laws – it is not enough for a potentate to simply declare that an illegal, unnecessary, expensive thing be done.
You have to work your way thru a legal and administrative framework that has, in the case of environmental law, been built up over, now, many decades, with generations of legal precedent undergirding it.

Unwinding that is going to take time. Time, that the current administration, it is increasingly clear, may not have.

Keith Schneider, above, is a long time New York Times correspondent, now a writer for the NGO Circle of Blue on the nexus of water and energy. He is one of the most well informed and well spoken observers in the field, and a key resource for my upcoming vid on the way forward Post-Paris.

The Hill:

An appeals court on Tuesday rejected the federal government’s approval of a natural gas pipeline project in the southeastern U.S., citing concerns about its impact on climate change.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that the project would deliver to power plants.

The ruling is significant because it adds to environmentalists’ arguments that analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act — the law governing all environmental reviews of federal decisions — must consider climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

The case concerns the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, which is meant to bring gas to Florida to fuel existing and planned power plants.

The Sierra Club sued FERC following its 2016 approval of the project. The environmental group brought a series of objections to the project and its environmental review, but the court denied all of the objections except the one focused on greenhouse gas.

The environmental impact statement for the project “should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so,” Judge Thomas Griffith, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush, wrote in the opinion. He was joined by Judge Judith Ann Wilson Rogers, one of President Bill Clinton‘s nominees.

“As we have noted, greenhouse-gas emissions are an indirect effect of authorizing this project, which FERC could reasonably foresee, and which the agency has legal authority to mitigate,” Griffith said.

 

“Quantification would permit the agency to compare the emissions from this project to emissions from other projects, to total emissions from the state or the region, or to regional or national emissions-control goals. Without such comparisons, it is difficult to see how FERC could engage in ‘informed decision making’ with respect to the greenhouse-gas effects of this project, or how ‘informed public comment’ could be possible,” the court wrote, quoting previous cases regarding environmental reviews.

Judge Janice Rogers Brown, another Bush nominee, dissented from the ruling, arguing that FERC does not have the authority to take action to reduce the greenhouse gas impact of pipelines it approves, so it is not obligated to analyze some impacts.

Vox:

According to the oil industry our society will keep burning oil for a long time. The low oil prices that have wreaked havoc in Alberta and other oil-producing jurisdictions for the past several years are just a temporary slump. Prices will soon rise. Global demand will grow. Canada’s oil sands will expand by 53 percent. Any talk of the industry soon collapsing is “greatly exaggerated,” argues the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

But more and more evidence suggests sunny predictions such as these are dead wrong. The global oil industry could be on the brink of a rapid and irreversible decline. If and when it begins, Canada’s oil sands would be one of the first major casualties.

This is a scenario that few people in Alberta want to acknowledge. Just the mere mention of it causes defensiveness and outrage. “We’re not going anywhere,” saidAlberta Premier Rachel Notley after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the prospect of an oil sands phase-out earlier this year.

“If Mr. Trudeau wants to shut down Alberta’s oil sands, and my hometown, let him be warned: he’ll have to go through me and four million Albertans first,” warned the Wildrose Party’s last leader Brian Jean.

Yet VICE spoke with two prominent economists—one in the US and one in Canada—who think we should take the prospect of an oil sands collapse very seriously. They think it could happen within the next decade. And there is little that anyone in Alberta, or Canada for that matter, can do to stop it.

They think the collapse could be set in motion by electric cars, self-driving technology, new business models for transportation and the international fight against climate change. They believe global oil demand will peak within the next few years. Oil prices will crash. High-cost sectors like the oil sands will shrivel while companies like Suncor and Exxon struggle to survive.

Most people imagine societal change as a slow and linear process. But in reality, change can often be the result of sudden and unforeseen disruptions. Tony Seba is fascinated by these disruptions. He’s spent years studying them. And the Stanford University futurist and economist regularly tries to predict when and how they’ll occur. Seba’s most recent prediction is a doozy. He argued in a reportthis spring that gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles will effectively vanish from American roads by the year 2030. Large fleets of self-driving electric vehicles will replace them. “It’s going to make no economic sense to own a car—ever,” Seba argued.

Here’s how he thinks this scenario will unfold: Though electric vehicles make up a tiny percentage of vehicle sales, there is clear evidence that this is changing. Volvo will only build electric and hybrid models starting in 2019. Large European cities are moving to ban combustion engines. Tesla has a higher market valuation than General Motors. China is eager to get into the market. It’s not hard to see where all this leads. “The cost of electric vehicles is coming down substantially,” Seba said.

That’s only part of the story though. The model of car ownership is also changing. Only a decade ago, the idea that you would pay for access to a fleet of vehicles via a powerful computer in your pocket was unthinkable. But Uber is now valued at $68 billion and Car2Go has over two million members. Companies like these are making it culturally acceptable to think of vehicles as a service instead of a consumer good. And they are building a vast digital infrastructure for ride-sharing in the process.

Now take these two trends and add a third: self-driving technology. California is currently pushing legislation to allow the autonomous vehicles being developed by companies like Google and Tesla on public roads across the state. And Seba thinks US regulatory approval could come by 2021 (a prediction at least one of his peers calls “highly doubtful”). But if Seba is right, the economics of vehicle usage would rapidly change. Electric vehicles have fewer engine components than traditional vehicles, and hence are cheaper to maintain. Fleets of cars are more economically efficient than private vehicles, which sit empty most of the day. And autonomous technology obviates the need to pay a driver or cover high insurance premiums.

The implications are profound. A robot-driven electric car hailed within minutes from your smartphone could make your life more convenient. You wouldn’t have to worry about parking. The data gathered from the vehicle’s computer system would cut down on gridlock. More importantly, though, such technology could potentially be 10 times cheaper than purchasing and operating a gas-powered vehicle. Faced with the choice between the past and the future, Seba thinks the answer to most people will be obvious: “I’m going to save $9,000 a year and not buy a new car.”

 

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5 Responses to “Court Pinches Pipeline on Climate Caution”

  1. webej Says:

    Another gratuitous and inapropriate mention of Vladimir proving again how the rougue nation projects it continual tamperng and “hybrid” warfare on its own mirror image.

  2. wpNSAlito Says:

    I don’t think Vladimir Putin has trouble understanding anything. He must get the biggest kick out of playing with the insecure narcissist Trump.


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