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Port Arthur asks US FERC to act on Phase II LNG expansion, after second review


Nonprofit groups, EPA, push FERC on air impacts

Debate over environmental justice impacts

  • Author
  • Maya Weber
  • Editor
  • Joe Fisher
  • Commodity
  • Energy Transition LNG

Sempra Energy is asking the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act promptly on its application to double the capacity at its Port Arthur LNG facility, pushing back on environmental advocates faulting the regulator's second environmental analysis released in May.

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The developer argued that additional concerns raised by the groups are misplaced -- regarding air quality, water quality, erosion, vessel traffic and fisheries impacts in FERC's assessment. The expansion project has already been "inexplicably delayed" since its application was filed in February 2020, Sempra told the regulator.

Launched in February 2023, FERC's supplemental environmental assessment for the approximately 13.5 million mt/year Phase II expansion delved into environmental justice, air quality and climate change impacts -- two years after FERC released the first environmental assessment.

The added review arose as the commission has come under increasing pressure to take into account impacts of concentrating multiple major LNG facilities along the US Gulf Coast, particularly if sited near communities already facing pollution from numerous industrial sources. FERC Chairman Willie Phillips, like his predecessor Richard Glick, has promised to elevate attention to environmental justice matters in FERC's deliberations.

Countering requests for another public hearing, Sempra is arguing the review has already stretched too long.

"Review and public scoping for the proposed Expansion Project have been underway for approximately four years," Port Arthur said in June 7 comments, noting pre-filing review started in June 2019.

"Each of the environmental assessments has concluded that approval of the Expansion Project, with the recommended mitigation measures, would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment," the developer said. It also pointed to recent comments in the record from residents and community leaders supporting the project.

Environmental advocacy

The US Environmental Protection Agency's Region 6 office was among commenters in late May pressing FERC to look further into impacts on communities facing cumulative health hazards from prior pollution.

While FERC's supplemental assessment found the increased cancer risk from the expansion project is 0.009% to 0.09%, and therefore not significant, EPA's Region 6 said such an evaluation does not fully account for cumulative impacts and the "atypically over-burdened conditions" that the existing population faces.

Because of the high number of industrial sources in the area, the Region 6 office said more emphasis should be placed on analyzing existing pollutant concentrations and health risks. It said it believed that is needed even though the expansion project's contributions to exceedances of National Ambient Air Quality Standards are below the so-called significant impact level, or SIL.

Environmental justice advocacy group Port Arthur Community Action Network also urged FERC to further evaluate air quality in the context of health challenges faced by Port Arthur residents, in May 30 comments. It noted that the EPA is in the process of re-evaluating and proposing lower NAAQS limits.

In PACAN's view, the project's nitrogen oxide emissions should be considered significant, and it called into question FERC's reliance on a Texas air permit, contending the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality overrode an administrative law judge's recommendations in favor of lower emissions limits for the project. PACAN has appealed the Texas air permit in the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Further, Environmental Integrity Project, on behalf of a handful of groups, objected FERC's acceptance of the lack of a Section 401 water quality certification for the expansion.

Port Arthur response

Port Arthur countered many of those views in its comments June 7.

FERC should give deference to the determination from Texas regulators that no further water quality review for the expansion project was needed, after it already reviewed the base project, Port Arthur said.

And it asserted that PACAN's assertions on air quality "ring especially hollow" after its "unsuccessful" litigation of the same issues in a state evidentiary hearing.

"PACAN's full and fair opportunity to litigate its concerns before an impartial, state decision maker bears on the commission's review of PACAN's comments here," Sempra argued. The group's appeal of the Texas finding focused narrowly on emissions limits for refrigeration compression turbines, it said.

As for EPA, it said "Region 6's generalized comments do not acknowledge the Expansion Project's contribution to any NAAQS exceedances were shown to be trivial."

And it pointed to existing EPA and state rules that rely on the SILs as benchmarks.

"[A] modeling analysis that demonstrates the source under review does not result in modeled concentrations greater than SILs, by extension demonstrates that the source will not cause or contribute to a violation of the NAAQS and will therefore not be adverse to public health, including the health of even the most sensitive individuals with an adequate margin of safety, including children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing medical conditions," it said.