A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld Energy Department decisions approving three projects to export liquefied natural gas, a boost for the Trump administration's strategy to increase energy production and promote exports.
The Sierra Club was seeking to overturn approvals of export terminals in Maryland, Louisiana and Texas, saying the projects would increase air and water pollution and contribute to global warming.
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A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a unanimous opinion that the Energy Department fulfilled its legal obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws. The court said its decision was similar to a ruling in August when it upheld approval of a separate export terminal in Texas.
Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is natural gas chilled to liquid form for shipment on tanker ships.
Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, an advocacy group that promotes natural gas exports, said he hopes the decision "will put an end to the unnecessary and costly challenges by Sierra Club that delay LNG projects" across the country.
"The facts are clear and the court agrees: The regulatory review process for U.S. LNG projects provides a thorough review of both operational and environmental impacts before being approved," Riedl said.
Exporting natural gas helps the U.S. economy and enhances geopolitical stability in countries that receive natural gas, such as Japan, China, South Korea and Argentina, Riedl said.
Nathan Matthews, a Sierra Club attorney, said expanding exports of gas produced by the drilling technique known as fracking inevitably increases air and water pollution. Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow. Fracking has led to a boom in natural gas production but raised widespread concerns about possible groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.
Matthews said it was disappointing that the court declined to hold the Energy Department "accountable for doing a real analysis that takes the costs for American communities into account," through increased pollution and emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Dominion Energy's export terminal in Cove Point, Maryland, is scheduled to open in the coming weeks. Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana opened last year. And Cheniere's project in Corpus Christi, Texas, is due to open next year.
The projects, along with a fourth export terminal in Freeport, Texas, all were approved by the Obama administration.
This story corrects the name of the appeals court.