Friday, September 10, 2010

South Coast Air Quality Mgmt. Dist. v. FERC

Sep 9: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 08-72265. This case involves the interstate natural gas pipeline system as regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); the varying quality of natural gas as measured by the Wobbe Index (WI); and the resulting air pollution from burning varying qualities of natural gas.
    In general, FERC issued an order approving a project, which authorized the construction of new facilities to allow for the northward flow of gas by North Baja Pipeline, LLC. The order confirmed FERC's earlier environmental review and adopted twenty-one enumerated environmental conditions relating to the construction of the pipeline and its continued transport of gas. FERC also required that the North Baja pipeline only deliver gas that meets the strictest gas quality standards imposed by state regulatory agencies on downstream end-users and pipelines, which, in light of California's gas standards, meant that the North Baja gas could not exceed a WI level of 1385. FERC found that compliance with these standards "should not result in a material increase in air pollutant emissions and, therefore, should not result in material changes in air quality in the Basin."
    South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast) argued for a maximum WI of 1360 in California, however, FERC observed that "[t]he record contains no analysis or evidence showing a material change in air quality impacts as a result of the consumption of natural gas with a WI of 1385 . . . compared to that of [South Coast's] proposed WI limit of 1360." South Coast, acting alone, filed a Request for Rehearing of FERC's Order. FERC denied the request and South Coast filed the instant petition for review with the Appeals Court.
    The Appeals Court ruled in part, ". . . while South Coast correctly states that the gas quality of the North Baja gas 'would be up to a 1385 Wobbe Index,' this number does not take into account any blending or conditioning of gases that may occur in either the North Baja pipeline itself or the California pipeline system, nor does it reflect the WI of gas in the Basin at the time it is actually burned. Indeed, because the actual WI of the North Baja gas by the time it reaches the Basin is unknown at this time, the expected NOx emissions and resulting environmental harm that may occur are equally unknown. Again, even South Coast acknowledged this uncertainty during its challenge to the CPUC proceedings. Consequently, the emissions that may result from the consumptive burning of North Baja gas are not reasonably foreseeable within the definition provided by the EPA's regulations.
    "Because the CAA does not require that FERC attempt to 'leverage its legal authority to influence or control' state air quality issues, and because there remains substantial uncertainty regarding the eventual burning of North Baja gas, FERC is not obligated to perform a full conformity determination regarding such burning under the CAA. South Coast's petition for review is denied."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).

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