Federal appeals court rejects Sabal Trail approval; decision could affect other pipelines

Sabal Trail pipeline and DAPL protest
Liza Epstein protests the Sabal Trail pipeline. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (2016 Nov. 15).

On Tuesday  a federal appeals court struck a blow to the Sabal Trail pipeline that carries natural gas for hundreds of miles through Florida; to find out how the decision could impact controversial pipelines across the country, WMNF News spoke with Frank Jackalone, Florida chapter director of Sierra Club.


“Pipeline fighters all across the country are celebrating today,” Jackalone tells WMNF News.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. circuit voted 2-1 to send the Environmental Impact Statement, that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission came up with on Sabal Trail Pipeline, they had them send it back for a re-write of the Environmental Impact Statement. They said that they had not adequately considered greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline; they can’t ignore that, they need to do that, it’s part of the requirement of the law.

“FERC, which is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is really getting away with murder in the way they approve pipelines. They ignore the rules on environmental justice, greenhouse gases. They approve the pipelines. They let them build the pipelines even without considering challenges that we make internally, within the process. So, the system has been rigged and it’s great to see a Federal Court of Appeals–you know, the next court just below the United States Supreme Court–deciding that we’re right, that they have to follow the law.”

The judge that wrote the opinion was appointed by George W. Bush. Could this set a precedent that the court is saying that future greenhouse gas emissions on a project like this have to be taken into account, that you can’t ignore that when it comes to approving these pipelines?

“Absolutely, it sets precedent and pipeline fighters, all across the country, are celebrating today because of this decision. They know that they can force the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission now to consider greenhouse gas emissions as part of their battles against pipelines all across the country.”

The Sabal Trail pipeline has been completed and there’s gas running through it. So, how would this decision affect the pipeline?

“You know, I’m traveling today and I don’t exactly know. I would only be speculating. My assumption–and here I’m speculating–my assumption is that they can’t use that gas, they have to go back and conduct the Full Environmental Impact Statement before that gas can be used at power plants.”

Is there an appeal that FERC could do or that the pipeline company could do where this might get reversed?

“Well, number one, FERC could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s a possibility. I would be surprised if they do. Secondly, you’re certainly going to see them come back with a quick Environmental Impact Statement, that considers greenhouse gasses in some way and they’re gonna try to do it quickly in order to make sure that FP & L is able to use that gas for new power plants. If they do a shoddy job, we will be right back in court.

“The bad news for Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy, which are depending on this gas, is that this slows down the process for them. This is going to introduce delay to their efforts to open up new natural gas power plants. And if there are a series of legal battles that follow this one, then it could be quite a delay. So, I’m hoping that this carries over into our efforts to stop the new power plants, that those utilities are planning, to stop them from coming on line.”

Here is previous WMNF News coverage of the Sierra Club’s lawsuit against the Sabal Trail pipeline.

Here is previous WMNF News coverage of the Sabal Trail pipeline.


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