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FERC approves NJ gas expansion project as panel's Democrats press climate debate

Williams Cos. Inc.'s Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC picked up approval from a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission divided over climate change for a 65,000-Dth/d compression expansion that will provide firm natural gas transportation service to help two utilities serve industrial, commercial and residential customers.

FERC issued a Natural Gas Act certificate for the Gateway expansion project in a Dec. 12 order that included 16 environmental conditions. Chairman Neil Chatterjee voted for it, and Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur joined him with a separate opinion, despite differences on how the commission should evaluate pipeline projects' effects on the climate.

Commissioner Richard Glick dissented, in part over the climate issues. Commissioner Kevin McIntyre, who is ill, did not vote, and Commissioner Bernard McNamee, who just joined the commission on Dec. 11, did not participate.

The FERC majority opinion agreed with a July environmental review by commission staff that there would be "minimal emissions" tied to the Gateway expansion.

Glick broke with the majority, saying FERC should not find this project or any other gas transportation project to be in the public interest if the commission does not evaluate the size of the project's contribution to climate change, including "reasonably foreseeable downstream [greenhouse gas] emissions" and emissions from upstream gas production. In a lengthy statement, he criticized the commission for refusing to use tools that would allow quantitative analysis of climate impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

"Climate change poses an existential threat to our security, economy, environment, and, ultimately, the health of individual citizens," Glick wrote in his partial dissent. "Unlike many of the challenges that our society faces, we know with certainty what causes climate change: It is the result of [greenhouse gas] emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane — which can be released in large quantities through the production and the consumption of natural gas."

LaFleur said in her separate statement that she shared many of those concerns, and like Glick, she pushed FERC to find a way to use a measure of the social cost of carbon in its reviews of gas infrastructure. The social cost of carbon is a tool that has been supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies as a way to attach a dollar figure to climate damage.

LaFleur said she overcame her concerns about the agency's "failure to consider downstream emissions impacts," a potential problem that has allowed a federal appeals court to overturn authorizations in another case, by considering those emissions on her own. Using an EPA methodology, LaFleur concluded that the extra gas moved through the Gateway expansion would eventually release almost 1.3 million tonnes per year of downstream CO2 emissions.

"This figure represents a 1.1 percent increase in [greenhouse gas] emissions within New Jersey and 0.02 percent increase nationally," she said.

The Gateway expansion in New Jersey, estimated to cost $84.6 million at the time of application, would provide additional firm gas transportation service to a Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. unit and UGI Energy Services LLC.

The project would upgrade Transco facilities in Essex and Passaic counties in New Jersey. In Essex County, the pipeline company would install a new compressor unit at an existing compressor station, increasing the station's certificated horsepower to 55,000 horsepower, and modify two meter and regulating stations. The company would make changes to a meter and regulator station in Passaic County. (FERC docket CP18-18)

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