After judge dismisses LNG lawsuit, environmental groups weigh options

Multiple environmental groups are weighing their legal options after a judge in Baton Rouge dismissed their lawsuit challenging the construction of a liquified natural gas facility.

Environmental groups opposed to the construction of an enormous liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in Plaquemines Parish are reviewing their legal options after a state judge dismissed their case for lack of proper venue. 

The Sierra Club, Healthy Gulf and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice had argued in their petition that construction for Venture Global’s Plaquemines LNG plant must halt unless the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources decides to issue a coastal use permit. 

Judge Wilson Fields of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge on Monday sided with the state in dismissing the group’s petition but did not rule on the merits of their case. The groups are now evaluating their legal options. 

“We are researching our options about re-filing in Plaquemines Parish or whether it would be necessary to appeal,” Lisa Diaz, an associate attorney with the Sierra Club, told The Lens via email.  “We feel this is an important case to protect the coastal waters and the people of Plaquemines Parish and expect to continue moving on with the litigation.”

The project secured initial funding of $13.2 billion last May, and on Monday, announced it had secured $7.8 billion in its second-phase, and final, funding round. The total funding, approximately $21 billion, constitutes the “largest project financing ever done,” according to the company.

At its peak production capacity, the project would be able to produce 24 million tons per year (MTPA) of LNG for export. The company has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve an increase of that capacity to 27.2 MTPA. 

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources issued a coastal use permit (CUP) exemption for the project in 2019.

But data collected since then, including from Hurricane Ida, demonstrates the facility would have a direct impact on coastal waters, which is why the agency must reconsider its decision to grant the exception, the groups said. They argued that neither the existing levees, nor the 26-foot storm wall and levee system the company has committed to build, would adequately prevent damage to the facility. 

The determination in 2019 by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources that a CUP was not required for the project was correct, the agency has said, because the project is located in so-called fastlands — or land that’s surrounded by levees. The agency has argued that the window of opportunity in which the groups may have challenged the decision has lapsed. 

Patrick Courreges, spokesman for LDNR, told The Lens that the agency is waiting to see whether the groups will continue to pursue litigation. Venture Global did not respond to a request for comment in time for this article’s publication. 

Trends and requests

There are 25 proposed LNG export terminals that could become operational throughout the country, 12 of which would be located in Louisiana, according to a report published by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group. The Louisiana projects alone could emit some 57 million tons of greenhouse gasses each year, according to the group’s data, which represents more than half of the country’s LNG exports. 

Without taking the upstream and downstream impacts into consideration, the projects, in total, could emit more than 90 million tons of greenhouse gasses annually, which is almost equivalent to the amount of climate-warming pollution 18 million passenger cars emit per year, according to the report.

The calculations would be several times higher if those other impacts were taken into consideration, the group said in its report. 

The United States is on track to, once again, become the world’s leading exporter of liquified natural gas in 2023. There are currently seven operational LNG export facilities in the country, three of which are located in Louisiana. Exports from Louisiana constitute more than half of the 3.86 trillion cubic feet of LNG delivered from the United States last year. 

The natural gas that Venture Global will eventually ship across the globe —once it’s been sufficiently cooled, or supercooled, to the tune of negative 260 degrees Fahrenheit — is composed largely of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s far more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Venture Global originally stated the plant would be operational by the middle of 2025, but appears to be behind schedule. In December, the company told federal regulators it had “experienced several delays due to severe weather,” which resulted in “slower overall construction progress.” 

In order to make up the difference, Venture Global would like to shift to a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week work rotation for about six months, the company told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is the federal agency with primary oversight into the project, the company stated in a variance request late last year. The company, per its request, seeks to increase the facility’s peak workforce from 3,800 to 6,000 workers. 

FERC issued a final environmental impact statement, per the National Environmental Policy Act, in 2019. But given the changes to the project’s scope included in the company’s variance request, FERC should issue a supplemental environmental impact statement, representatives from Healthy Gulf, the Sierra Club and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade told the agency earlier this month. 

The changes sought by the company would exert substantially negative impacts on the environment and communities’ health in Plaquemines Parish, according to the group’s response letter. 

Meanwhile, environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, sued the Department of Energy (DOE) on Monday for what they allege is the agency’s failure to respond to a petition for rulemaking that would establish whether LNG export terminals are consistent with the public’s interest. Under the Natural Gas Act, the DOE has the power to authorize the imports and exports of LNG, though it has historically acted primarily as a rubber stamp in the process. 

Joshua Rosenberg

Joshua Rosenberg covers the environmental beat for The Lens. Joshua is a Report for America corps member, and is working in collaboration with the Mississippi River Basin Ag and Water Desk. Prior to joining...