Public Citizen News / November-December 2022
By Patrick Davis
This article appeared in the November/December 2022 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.
At a small church in the town of Port St. Joe, Florida, Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, gathered with community leaders in October for the city’s first briefing on a proposed facility at the local port. If built, it would destroy longstanding plans to sustainably redevelop the local shoreline. For many of the attendees, it was the first time they had heard of plans to build a new fossil fuel export terminal in their historically Black community, just blocks away from their homes and schools.
Prior to the hearing in Port St. Joe, Public Citizen filed a lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), alleging that the commission had fallen short of its duty to regulate fossil fuel export facilities by failing to require Nopetro, the company seeking to build the terminal, to undergo an environmental impact assessment ahead of construction.
As part of the hearing held by Public Citizen, Slocum told residents he was looking for help fighting the project. The lawsuit named several locals who feel they are directly impacted by the liquified natural gas (LNG) export project.
The meetings in Port St. Joe and the lawsuit are the latest chapters in Public Citizen’s objection to the project. The proposed site of the LNG export facility was once home to a paper mill, which closed down in 1999, and was also once the economic engine of the city. The mill, which was adjacent to a historically African American community, has been subject to several community-driven redevelopment plans, the most recent of which looked toward tourism to bring in profits.
As members of the community planned for the future, Nopetro eyed the site for a LNG export facility, and in March 2022, petitioned FERC to exempt it from the commission’s oversight.
At issue in Public Citizen’s lawsuit against FERC is a decision by the commission to allow a new type of export facility for LNG to be built without the customary environmental impact assessment.
In the first six months of 2022, the U.S. exported 29% of the natural gas extracted across the country, according to a report by Public Citizen released in October.
While portions of the gas exported leaves the country in pipelines, most of the gas that moves overseas is liquified at a temperature of -260 degrees Fahrenheit. The LNG is then piped onto large tanker ships to be exported around the world. However, the proposed facility at Port St. Joe would fill specially designed shipping containers equipped with high-pressure LNG tanks, allowing them to be stacked on container ships alongside other cargo.
Nopetro’s April petition to FERC asserted that their new natural gas liquification terminal should be exempt because the site of the liquification is 1,329 feet away from the place where the gas would be loaded onto the ships. The idea is that, because trucks would drive the containers the short distance to container ships, that Nopetro’s facility does not meet the definition of an LNG terminal and is therefore exempt from the requirement for an environmental review.
“If FERC’s exemption granted to Nopetro is allowed to move forward, it will blow a huge loophole through federal oversight of such LNG export facilities, subjecting other coastal communities to the risks that Port St. Joe faces, and accelerate the climate crisis,” said Slocum. “The commission’s unwillingness to properly regulate these export terminals exposes communities of color to risks of pollution and safety risks.”
Public Citizen has argued that if Nopetro’s facility is allowed to move forward, FERC would be shirking its responsibilities under the Natural Gas Act, which states that “The Commission shall have the exclusive authority to approve or deny an application for the siting, construction, expansion, or operation of an LNG terminal.”
“The company wants to cut corners,” Slocum told News 13, a local TV station. “They don’t want to deal with that comprehensive environmental review because it costs money and I would say to a community that if a company isn’t willing to commit the financial resources to conduct a comprehensive assessment to show that its facility is safe, then you don’t want that company operating in your community.”
In the coming months, both sides will submit their briefs to the U.S. Circuit Court in Washington, D.C., where the case will be heard. Oral arguments will likely take place in the summer or fall of 2023.