Court sides with FERC’s moderate environmental review of Trans-Pecos pipeline

PRESIDIO – A federal appeals court panel rejected Big Bend Conservation Alliance’s (BBCA) objection to Federal Energy Regulatory Committee’s (FERC) approval last year of facilities to carry natural gas from West Texas to Mexico, stating that the regulatory agency had fulfilled its obligation to review the project’s environmental impacts.

The BBCA had petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking an expanded environmental review of Trans-Pecos plans to build and operate an export facility consisting of a 1,093-foot pipeline running from a meter station in Presidio County, TX, to the international border, and the 148-mile Trans-Pecos pipeline.

BBCA filed its petition in January 2017 and Trans-Pecos was in service four months later, simultaneous with the Comanche Trail, another West Texas pipeline to carry natural gas to the border.

BBCA’s case before the court involved three arguments. First, the TPP should have been considered under Section 3 of the Natural Gas Act of 1938 because the pipeline is an export facility. Secondly, BBCA argued that because the pipeline would connect with other intrastate pipelines in West Texas, and could potentially connect with interstate pipelines, therefore it should be overseen by federal regulations. By using this artificially narrow application it has avoided Federal oversight. Lastly, BBCA argued that the pipeline was illegally segmented into one small 1093-foot segment at the border that received Federal oversight and a 148-mile segment that did not. Under the Commission for Environmental Quality and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a project that is continuous and connected should be considered as a whole. TPP only conducted a cursory environmental analysis of the 148-mile segment. The BBCA asserted FERC should have considered the project as a whole and conducted a full environmental review for the entire pipeline project.

On Tuesday July 17, the court rejected BBCA’s argument that the Trans-Pecos is an interstate pipeline subject to Section 7 and that it should have been subject to NEPA review even if it were not subject to FERC’s regulatory authority.

According to the court, the Trans-Pecos pipeline is a non-jurisdictional intrastate pipeline subject to regulation by the State of Texas.

BBCA and other environmental groups, including Sierra Club, and landowners, concerned about the project’s impact on the Big Bend National Park, have fought to block Trans-Pecos since its construction began three years ago.