Plans for a southeast Texas liquified natural gas terminal have been put on hold

A federal judge ruled the TCEQ didn’t properly impose emissions limits on the Port Arthur facility.

By Alexandra HartNovember 16, 2023 1:02 pm,

A liquified natural gas export terminal in Texas has been halted, at least temporarily.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week ruled that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality didn’t apply consistent emissions standards when approving Sempra Energy’s Port Arthur LNG project. However, in a statement on Wednesday, Sempra said construction is continuing on the project under existing permits and it remains committed to working with the TCEQ.  

The complaint was brought by Port Arthur Community Action Network, who was represented by the Environmental Integrity Project and Lone Star Legal Aid. 

 Amy Dinn, environmental justice attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, spoke with the Standard about their case and what comes next. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Give us some background on this LNG terminal and why the plaintiffs were challenging it here.

Amy Dinn: Yeah, so this was a proposed new facility in Port Arthur LNG – Port Arthur, Texas – to do LNG exports. And we were concerned with the amount of proposed pollution that was going to be put out by this facility.

And we were challenging the permit because we knew, based on looking at other permits that TCU had issued, that the applicant could have lower emissions. And so we were pushing for lower emissions from the facility like other LNG export facilities have been permitted for in Texas.

Well, now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality presumably ruled on the application. What was wrong with their ruling? What did you feel that TCEQ got wrong here?

Yeah, so we had gone to a contested case hearing regarding the permit and had a full evidentiary hearing in front of an administrative law judge who had ruled that there were a potential for a lowered permitted limits for this particular facility based on other permits. And we were hopeful that the TCEQ would adopt that decision that had been found by the administrative law judge after an evidentiary hearing.

But unfortunately, the TCEQ failed to take that action. And so we were forced to challenge the permit at the Fifth Circuit.

What were concerns about this terminal? More specifically, what impact might this terminal have on the local environment, as you saw?

Well, Port Arthur, Texas, is an environmental justice community with an extreme amount of oil and gas buildup infrastructure already. And we were very concerned that this additional pollution from this facility, if allowed to go forward at the permitted limits TCEQ had approved, would cause potential health impacts for the community that lives there because they’re already forced to have a lot of air pollution.

Was there any way of determining just how much greater risk might be posed to residents or no? 

Yeah, we actually calculated the amount of the admissions and it was like 800 tons more than what could have been permitted or what we were arguing for.

But I should point out that this ruling doesn’t necessarily prevent this facility from being built. In a statement on Wednesday, Sempra Energy said that construction is continuing on the project under existing permits, right?

Well, actually, the permit that was issued by the TCEQ superseded the original permits that had been granted for the facility because it was a consolidated permit. So technically when the court vacated the permit, they do not have a current operating permit.

They don’t have a current operating permit, but they say construction is continuing. What happens next, as you see it?

Well, we will wait for a final decision to be issued by the Fifth Circuit. We have the opinion. My understanding from Port Arthur LNG’s cousel is they may intend to challenge the decision that was made and we will wait for a final decision from the court.

But we are hopeful that we have, you know, presented our best case and we hope the court stands by the opinion that was issued earlier this week.

In terms of steps. Once the court releases its final decision, the application would then what? Go back to the TCEQ for a follow on review?

That is correct. The court remanded the opinion to TCEQ, yes.

And what then do you want to see changed?

We want a new permit issued at the proper limits that we have advocated for, which is five parts per million of nitrogen oxides.

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