The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will no longer hear oral arguments in the Sierra Club's challenges of three U.S. Department of Energy orders approving LNG exports, a sign that judges will likely echo their ruling upholding export authorization for the Freeport LNG terminal in Texas.
In orders filed Oct. 4, the court said it determined that "oral argument will not assist" its review of cases challenging the DOE approvals of LNG exports from Dominion Energy Inc.'s Cove Point and Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Sabine Pass and Corpus Christi terminals. Oral arguments had been scheduled for Oct. 18.
The D.C. Circuit in August dismissed the Sierra Club's claims that the DOE had failed to adequately evaluate the environmental effects of exporting LNG from the Freeport facility under construction in Texas.
"To the extent Sierra Club suggests the department should have weighed environmental concerns more heavily before granting the [Freeport] application, it fails to overcome the presumption in favor of exports," the court said at the time. "Notably, even if the department determined the impacts were significant, it could still find that the public interest weighs in favor of allowing the exports."
Robert Smith, acting deputy assistant secretary for oil and natural gas at the DOE, said Oct. 2 that the court's decision on Freeport was a "validation" of the agency's process. "This was the first case where the court had reviewed a DOE order authorizing exports of LNG to non-free trade agreement countries," he said at Energy Dialogues' North American Gas Forum in Washington, D.C. "We anticipate that this decision will guide the outcome of the pending cases."
The Sierra Club, which had previously targeted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's authorizations of the terminals themselves, shifted its focus to the Energy Department after the court deemed the DOE to be the sole entity responsible for permitting LNG export activity. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dockets 16-1186, 16-1252 and 16-1253)