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EPA no longer grading FERC environmental reviews of gas projects

In recent federal environmental reports on LNG export projects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stopped giving ratings to the reviews as it had for 30 years, and it has provided few comments.

"Please note that effective October 22, 2018, the EPA no longer includes ratings in our comment letters," the agency told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The EPA reminded FERC about the change in policy in November and December comments on the commission staff's environmental reviews for a new round of proposed LNG export projects. The projects included Texas LNG LLC's effort to build a terminal in Brownsville, Texas, with up to 4 million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas production capacity; NextDecade Corp.'s 27-mtpa Rio Grande terminal in Brownsville; Tellurian Inc.'s 27.6-mtpa Driftwood terminal in Louisiana; and Sempra Energy's 11-mtpa Port Arthur terminal in Texas.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the federal environmental agency used to provide comments on all environmental impact statements for federal actions, such as FERC approvals of LNG terminals and natural gas pipelines. Under a 1984 policy, the agency issued letter and number codes — such as LO for "lack of objections," EC for "environmental concerns" and numbers 1 to 3 to indicate the adequacy of information — along with comments. The rating served as a grade on the adequacy of the review, and it helped the agency decide whether a proposed action should be referred to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

But to comply with an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in August 2017 with the theme of "establishing discipline and accountability in the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects," the EPA discontinued the rating system. The agency said early coordination with the agencies in charge of the environmental reviews, such as FERC, has helped improve the proposed actions and the reviews of those actions. The lead agencies have also become more sophisticated in their reviews, the EPA said.

"Where EPA has concerns with the adequacy of a draft [environmental impact statement], the agency will continue to provide robust written comments as required by [Clean Air Act]," the agency wrote in an Oct. 22 memo.

The environmental agency did not have major concerns with the recent FERC reviews for the LNG projects. The EPA made no comments on Texas LNG and Rio Grande LNG projects as proposed. The agency submitted a couple of pages of comments or recommendations on reducing impacts to the environment and local communities on the Driftwood LNG project and a related pipeline project and on Port Arthur and its pipeline project. (FERC dockets CP16-116, et al.)

In a Dec. 14 environmental impact statement, FERC staff passed Exelon Corp.'s 6-mtpa Annova LNG project in Brownsville. (FERC docket CP16-480)