A Common-Sense Approach to Pipeline Review Could Help Save our Climate | Conservation Law Foundation

A Common-Sense Approach to Pipeline Review Could Help Save our Climate

Melissa Birchard

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

As I write this, U.S. and world leaders are gathered in Paris, working to come to agreement on how to tackle the health and security threat of climate change. In the face of this national and global action on climate change, just what is the nation’s primary energy regulator, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), doing to help?

When it comes to greenlighting dirty energy projects such as massive (and unnecessary) fossil-fuel pipeline build-outs, FERC seems bent on following an outdated “business as usual” approach. But as President Obama has declared in Paris, “business as usual” isn’t good enough, anymore.

It’s Time for a Different Approach to Pipeline Review
The nation’s energy regulator has repeatedly defended its business-as-usual approach to pipelines with the weak argument that its “high approval rate for pipeline proposals” simply “demonstrates prudence on the part of the industry and consistency on the part of the Commission.” Granted the latter may be true – the Commission’s track record of saying “okay, sure” to dirty pipelines has been pretty consistent.

But the rubber-stamp approach of the past is no longer consistent with the climate policies of today or President Obama’s demand for a new vigilance in planning our energy future. Consistency with today’s policy goal of near-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 means not moving ahead with every dirty, fossil-fuel-based pipeline project that comes along. Especially when they come along in droves, as they are now in New England. Sometimes the only common sense – and truly prudent – answer is no.

The fact is FERC is tasked with determining whether more massive fossil-fuel pipeline infrastructure is “necessary” – in New England and elsewhere. It’s also the only agency with the authority to review the environmental impacts of proposed pipelines that cross state lines – from where they begin to where they end.

So can we afford for FERC to continue to greenlight pipelines without meaningful review of need or scrutiny of impacts? The energy industry is evolving with lightning speed in response to climate change, and FERC must evolve, too. If FERC doesn’t move quickly to take a comprehensive look at need, it will find its outdated approach to pipeline approval has left ratepayers with unprecedented bills for old technology and dirty fuels. FERC will be outpaced to the detriment of homeowners and American businesses, as well as the climate.

CLF and Others Call for a Review of All New England Pipeline Proposals
As FERC begins to assess a huge slate of proposals for massive natural gas pipeline build-out in New England, Conservation Law Foundation is asking them to stop the juggernaut for just a little while to carry out a meaningful review of what the region actually needs when it comes to new pipelines – not just what the fossil-fuel industry says we need.

We’re not alone. Many of New Hampshire’s elected leaders, including Senator Ayotte, Governor Hassan, and Representatives Kuster and Guinta, all currently oppose the massive Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline proposal that energy giant Kinder Morgan is lobbying FERC to approve. Joining them are municipal leaders and others, who are demanding that FERC conduct a comprehensive review of the region’s energy needs (officially called a programmatic environmental impact statement) before moving forward on any one of the pipelines being proposed. And then there’s the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, which has produced a rigorous analysis of the region’s energy needs that disproves industry claims that massive pipeline build-outs are necessary.

The time is now for FERC to take seriously its role in both pipeline approval and the unfolding energy transition. We just can’t get to 80% fewer greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with unchecked build-out of more fossil-fuel infrastructure. Soon CLF will lodge a formal request that FERC conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement investing the time and resources necessary to meaningfully answer the question of what the region “needs.” Common sense tells us FERC’s response should be “yes.”

CLF President Brad Campbell is on the ground in Paris sharing insights and learnings from New England’s leadership in fighting back against climate change. Follow his updates on Twitter and the Huffington Post.

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