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EPA says Sabal Trail pipeline is threat to Florida’s drinking water, then recants
By Stephanie Kunkel
The Sierra Club strongly opposes any oil and gas pipelines proposed for Florida. Currently we are working in opposition to the Sabal Trail Pipeline, a joint venture of Spectra Energy, Duke Energy and Next Era, the parent company of Florida Power & Light Co.
The pipeline is slated to originate in Alabama, run through Georgia and run 266.8 miles through parts of north and central Florida, to end in Osceola County at the Southeast Connector Project. Three compressor stations are proposed for Suwannee, Marion and Osceola counties, with pipeline proposed to run through Alachua, Hamilton, Suwannee, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Sumter, Lake, Polk, Osceola, Orange and Citrus Counties.
The proposed path of the pipeline will run through environmentally sensitive areas including the Green Swamp, over Florida’s springs, drilled under rivers and will cross nearly 100 acres of state parks, state forests and state recreation trails, not to mention its potential to drastically impact the Floridan aquifer.
In April, 2015, Sierra Club Florida filed an emergency petition with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking designation of the Floridan Aquifer as a Sole Source Aquifer (SSA) under the EPA’s Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program. The emergency petition would protect Florida’s drinking water and create a roadblock to building of the pipeline.
On November 21st, 2014, Sabal Trail filed an application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the lead agency reviewing the proposed project. On September 3, 2015, FERC issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to assess the potential environmental effects of the pipeline. Sierra Club Florida, in partnership with the Alabama and Georgia Chapters, and represented by Green Law, submitted joint comments to FERC in opposition to the proposed pipeline. In October, EPA wrote a 30 page letter to FERC, stating it had “very significant concerns” about the proposed route of the Sabal Trail Pipeline and the impact it will have on wetlands. Further, EPA cited the Sierra Club petition for SSA in its comments and strongly recommended an alternative route for the pipeline to avoid impacts to the Floridan Aquifer. FERC must issue a permit before the Sabal Trail Pipeline can be built. They are expected to issue their final ruling in March, 2016.
On December 11th however, EPA reversed its course on the pipeline when a different division of EPA said the wetlands-related issue was addressed after it met with Sabal Trail Management officials. In response, Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager, Sierra Club of Florida, questioned the “about face” in such a short time and said, “I smell a skunk.” Further, Jackalone stated “This was really bold. There was a very detailed analysis of why the pipeline was flawed in the 30-page letter by the EPA to FERC. Now suddenly in a five-page letter, James Giattina (an EPA administrator) throws it all out the window.”
Back in Florida, after the EPA issued its scathing report, the WWALS Watershed Coalition asked a Florida administrative law judge to take judicial notice of the EPA objections. But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) joined Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, the company proposing the pipeline, and objected to the judicial notice. The Administrative Law Judge denied the Coalition’s request and on December 11th, the judge recommended that DEP should issue an environmental resource permit for the proposed pipeline.
Sabal Trail Transmission LLC must also acquire a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act before the pipeline can be built. Sierra Club Florida, working with the Gulf Restoration Network and Green Law recently submitted comments in opposition to the Sabal Trail Pipeline to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
We will continue to do everything we can to oppose the Sabal Trail Pipeline and will keep our Members posted about ways you can take action to oppose the Pipeline.