ATLANTA, GA – Today, Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), Flint Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its issuance of three Clean Water Act permits that would allow construction of the 515-mile Florida Southeast Market Pipelines Project, including the Sabal Trail pipeline. This project would transport fracked gas across 699 waterbodies, lakes, rivers, and streams and harm 1,958 wetland systems in three states: Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
In addition, the project would include five compressor stations contributing significant amounts of air pollution. That station would rest in the midst of a predominantly African-American neighborhood, which includes two large subdivisions, a mobile home park, schools, recreational facilities, and a church. Despite widespread local opposition to the project, state and federal agencies are continuing to proceed.
If built, the fracked gas pipeline would extend throughout Florida and southern Georgia over an area that provides drinking water to approximately 10 million people. Pipeline construction alone poses a threat to local water resources as the process threatens to release hazardous materials and drilling mud into the aquifer, polluting the drinking water, and resulting in rapid transmission of drilling mud over great distances.
GRN, Flint Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club alleges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to provide proper notice and public participation. The lawsuit further charges that the planned pipeline fails to avoid, minimize or mitigate the adverse environmental impacts. Proponents contend Sabal Trail will supply gas for future gas plants proposed in Florida, including the Duke Energy Citrus Combined-Cycle Plant and the Florida Power & Light Martin Energy Center. Yet groups question the purpose and need for this pipeline for gas plants and other potential uses. More fracked gas infrastructure is unnecessary in light of alternative sources of clean, low cost, low risk energy like wind and solar.
“Communities in Florida and Georgia have clearly stated that they do not want this dangerous fracked-gas pipeline polluting their water or their neighborhoods. We have collected 25,000 signatures in opposition to the pipeline, but the Army Corps is just not listening,” said Johanna DeGraffenreid with Gulf Restoration Network. “The public has continually been left out of the decision making process for this project and that is unacceptable. Our water and communities are too important to risk for an unnecessary pipeline.”
As stated by Steve Caley, Legal Director at GreenLaw, “the Floridan Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world which supplies drinking water to millions of people in the southeastern United States, has a close connection to the water bodies and wetlands that will be negatively impacted or destroyed by the Southeast Market Pipelines Project. Given the threats this Project poses to this critical water supply, the Corps’ failure to follow clearly established law by transparently evaluating and disclosing for public review and comment how those negative effects will be mitigated is particularly egregious.”
“The Corps robbed the public of their right to comment by not making the mitigation plan available for review during the public comment period,” said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director at Public Justice, which is representing the groups. “The Corps assumed that mitigation can offset all of the project’s impacts, but that key assumption was never scrutinized during the permit review process.”
“Essentially what happened is the Corps stated FERC addressed mitigation while FERC stated the Corps would do it. As a result, neither agency analyzed the issue and the public had no chance to review and comment on it,” said Eric Huber, managing attorney for the Sierra Club. “To make matters worse, the Corps was aware of several less damaging routes but did not choose them, causing unnecessary destruction to wetlands through the heart of southern Georgia and Florida.”
“Florida does not need more fracked gas infrastructure or gas plants,” said Frank Jackalone, Director of Sierra Club Florida. “The state already has the worst gas over-reliance problem in the country. It's time to solve that problem by capturing the tremendous economic and environmental benefits of clean energy including energy efficiency, solar, wind, and battery storage.”
GRN, Flint Riverkeeper and Sierra Club are represented by Jim Hecker at Public Justice in Washington, DC and Steve Caley at Greenlaw in Atlanta, Georgia.