Court decision to impact Sabal Trail pipeline

File PhotoThe 515-mile Sabal Trail pipeline has been up and running since June.

VALDOSTA —  The Sabal Trail pipeline could be in trouble after a U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission based on its environmental impact study of a network of pipelines.

FERC is the federal organization that provided the natural-gas pipeline its permit to operate. According to the ruling released Tuesday, FERC failed to include enough information on the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions carried by multiple pipelines, which includes Sabal Trail.

The national and Florida Sierra Clubs, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, filed the case against FERC in 2016 after FERC granted the pipelines permits based on the environmental impact study. Protesters repeatedly called this study into question.

The pipelines involved in the case are Spectra Energy’s more than 500-mile-long Sabal Trail interstate natural gas pipeline that cuts through Alabama, Georgia and Florida, along with Williams Transco’s Hillabee Expansion Project in Alabama and Florida Power and Light’s Florida Southeast Connection.

Andrea Grover with Sabal Trail Transmission stated in an email that the company is reviewing the decision but it "will not affect Sabal Trail’s operations at this time."

The Sabal Trail pipeline became operational in June and has been the cause of many protests across multiple states.

John Quarterman, a member of the WWALS Watershed Coalition, an organization opposed to the pipeline, said the decision will lead to FERC performing another environmental study but might also create a powerful precedent. 

The precedent could mean FERC has to consider greenhouse gases for all pipeline proposals in the future. Quarterman said it could mean energy generators such as solar and wind that don't produce greenhouse gases would be more heavily favored instead of fossil fuels.

"This is wind in our sails and could be the end of Sabal Trail," Quarterman said.

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256

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