Attorney General Maura Healey recently led a coalition of 12 attorneys general in filing comments calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to thoroughly consider the impacts of proposed natural gas projects on communities that are already overburdened with environmental harm and on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
In comments filed on two new proposed policies relating to FERC’s review of natural gas infrastructure projects, the coalition commended the development of a framework to analyze greenhouse gas emissions and update its pipeline certification policy to respond to significant changes that have occurred since the commission last promulgated such a policy in 1999. The coalition’s comments also urged FERC to go further to acknowledge the need to drastically reduce investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure and to protect the rights and interests of landowners and communities, especially those with environmental justice concerns.
“For far too long, federal policies have unjustly forced our historically marginalized communities to disproportionately suffer from the impacts of climate change and other environmental harms,” Healey said. “FERC must now follow through on its commitment to take a harder look at proposals for new gas pipelines, and we urge it to go further to ensure we are not burdening our communities with new projects that will pollute our air and make it harder for states to meet our climate goals.”
FERC issued its draft greenhouse gas policy in February to clarify its procedures for evaluating climate impacts—both those caused by a proposed project and those likely to affect a project—under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and to describe how the agency intends to integrate climate considerations into its public interest determinations under the Natural Gas Act (NGA).
As the most recent report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed, climate change is already adversely affecting the physical and mental health of people globally, including by spreading new diseases; harming human health, livelihoods, and infrastructure; and contributing to humanitarian crises by increasing food insecurity and associated violence and migration. Limiting global warming to a level that could keep these effects from getting exponentially worse in the coming decades is possible, but it will require rapid emissions reductions across all sectors. Today, natural gas accounts for more than one-third of U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
As the agency charged with approving all new major interstate natural gas infrastructure projects, FERC’s recognition of the importance of considering climate change as part of its environmental reviews is critical. The coalition’s comments also call on FERC to:
- Presume that all new natural gas infrastructure projects will have significant environmental effects under NEPA, and prepare a thorough Environmental Impact Statement for every such project;
- Consider state climate and clean energy policies when evaluating the significance of new proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects;
- Adopt the presumption that that all emissions caused by combustion of transported gas are a reasonably foreseeable impact of new natural gas pipelines; and
- Seek information about other emissions impacts associated with proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.
On the same day FERC issued its draft greenhouse gas policy, it also issued a new draft policy relating to its process for certifying new pipeline projects. The coalition’s comments support FERC’s proposed comprehensive scheme for reviewing pipeline applications under the NGA that incorporates climate and environmental justice considerations. Importantly, as the attorneys general had previously recommended, the policy commits FERC to considering the effects of proposed pipeline projects on underserved communities that are already overburdened by pollution.
In the submitted comments, the coalition also called on FERC to:
- Expand community engagement in FERC proceedings through the newly established Office of Public Participation;
- Require a robust analysis of the impacts of proposed projects to inform public benefits assessments under the NGA;
- Condition certificates to mitigate harm to communities overburdened with environmental harm;
- Commit to taking all steps to avoid the use of eminent domain, whenever possible; and
- Consider the regions’ and states’ ability to meet their clean energy goals and greenhouse gas emission reduction mandates in evaluating the need for a project.
Healey’s Office has long advocated for FERC to take climate change and environmental justice into account as part of its NEPA and NGA reviews of natural gas infrastructure projects. In both of the proposed policies, FERC acknowledged the initial recommendations of a coalition of seven attorneys general, led by Healey, in comments filed with FERC in 2018 on how FERC should revise its gas pipeline policy statement. In May 2021, Healey led a coalition of eleven attorneys general in filing supplemental comments that reinforced those earlier recommendations, highlighting new data and recent developments, and called on FERC to develop an environmental justice policy and to condition or deny pipeline approvals to prevent harm to communities with environmental justice concerns. Both proposed policies incorporate many of the recommendations put forward by the coalition in its 2021 comments.
Healey remains committed to ensuring access to clean energy at affordable prices for all Massachusetts ratepayers, and to working with other state attorneys general and consumer advocates to foster greater participation, transparency and consideration of environmental and energy justice in FERC proceedings.