Lawsuit filed against FERC; Petitioners wanting LNG reevaluation

On the same day the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a request to reconsider its approval of Annova LNG and Texas LNG building facilities at the Port of Brownsville, the Sierra Club, the city of Port Isabel, environmental groups and two private citizens filed suit against FERC for authorizing construction of Rio Grande LNG and the associated Rio Bravo Pipeline.

FERC last month rejected a similar request regarding Rio Grande LNG, and a lawsuit has been filed against FERC challenging that decision. A spokeswoman for NextDecade, which owns Rio Grande LNG, said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Sierra Club said in a statement that emissions from the Rio Grande LNG natural gas liquefaction facility and export terminal “would disproportionately harm low-income Latino residents living in nearby neighborhoods,” while the destruction of hundreds of acres of wetlands and “irreplaceable natural habitat” during construction would damage the local tourism and fishing industries.

“FERC has consistently ignored concerns about how Rio Grande LNG and other fracked-gas facilities would harm already marginalized (Latino) communities in the Rio Grande Valley,’ said Rebekah Hinojosa, an organizer with Sierra Club Brownsville.

For FERC to ignore the negative impact the facility would have on local families and the economy is unacceptable, she said. According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by FERC for Rio Grande LNG, vessel traffic to all three proposed export terminals at the port would prevent shrimpers and other commercial boat operators from using the Brownsville Ship Channel for up to 39 hours a week, the Sierra Club said.

FERC issued final authorization in November for Annova LNG, Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG to proceed with their projects, though the companies are still waiting for permits from other regulatory agencies.

The Feb. 20 lawsuit petitions the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. to review FERC’s decision approving Rio Grande LNG and its subsequent rejection of the petitioners’ request for a rehearing. The petitioners include Vecinos para el Bienestar de la Comunidad Costera (Neighbors for the Welfare of the Coastal Community), represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), the grass-roots group Save RGV from LNG, and Brownsville residents Gilberto and Cynthia Hinojosa.

The Sierra Club said FERC’s Jan. 23 reevaluation of how much cumulative pollution the three LNG facilities would generate bolsters the suit, because it found that combined emissions from the three plants could exceed ozone levels in violation of the Clean Air Act. The Sierra Club cited FERC’s Order on Rehearing and Stay finding that “the cumulative impact on regional air quality from ozone could be significant.”

TRLA attorney Katy Youker said it’s “no coincidence that the people will breathe the pollution from the facilities are predominantly low-income.”

“Low-income communities of color are routinely subjected to higher levels of pollution, because their welfare is not considered when contaminating industrial facilities are built,” she said. “Under federal law, FERC is legally compelled to take into consideration whether they would be disproportionately impacted. We have filed this suit to make them do their job.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com