In a Victory for Clean Air Advocates in Texas, U.S. Court of Appeals Halts Sempra Energy Natural Gas Export Facility
Port Arthur, TX — A federal court yesterday halted the construction of a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal planned for southeast Texas, ruling that Texas regulators failed to follow the federal Clean Air Act in issuing a permit authorizing the construction of Sempra Energy’s Port Arthur LNG project.
The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, was a major victory for community advocates and environmentalists, who challenged the state-issued air pollution permit for the LNG terminal because it would release tons of health-threatening air pollutants into a community that is about two thirds Black or Latino and already overburdened by pollution.
“This decision from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court is welcomed, but it is no surprise,” said John Beard, Executive Director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network. “Every step in this fight, we’ve won by standing up for Port Arthur communities of color to breathe free from toxic pollution. When attacked, we fight back – and win!”
Ilan Levin, Texas Director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said: “This legal win should be a wake-up call not only for Texas, but also for the Biden Administration’s EPA. For Texas, this legal opinion is a clear message to stop bending over backwards to accommodate the whims of fossil fuel corporations like Sempra or Exxon. And to the Biden Administration, the court’s ruling demonstrates that the path to environmental and climate justice is through strict enforcement of bedrock anti-pollution laws like the ones the court relied on in this case.”
Chase Porter, a staff attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid, said: “TCEQ’s mission says the agency is supposed to protect public health, but TCEQ has all but rubber-stamped permits without meaningfully considering the health and safety of fenceline communities. The court makes clear this practice by TCEQ is, simply put, illegal.”
The proposed Port Arthur LNG Terminal, being developed by Sempra and ConocoPhillips, would have cooled, compressed, and exported up to 27 million tons of liquefied natural gas every year while releasing as much as 7.7 million tons of greenhouse gases, 1,895 tons of nitrogen oxides (which contribute to smog), and 428 tons of soot-like particulate matter, which can trigger asthma and heart attacks, according to the state permit granted by Texas.
The panel of federal judges wrote in explaining why they “vacated” (struck down) the state air pollution control permit: “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) declined to impose certain emissions limits on a new natural gas facility that it had recently imposed on another such facility…. It therefore acted arbitrarily and capriciously under Texas law.”
The Port Arthur Community Action Network, represented by the Environmental Integrity Project and Lone Star Legal Aid, has been challenging the state permit for the proposed LNG terminal since September 2020, arguing that additional pollution controls should be required for the facility’s refrigeration turbines, the single largest source of air pollution at the plant. Such pollution controls could reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide pouring out of the plant by hundreds of tons per year. Nitrogen oxides can cause coughing and difficulty breathing, and can worsen asthma symptoms.
In May 2022, two judges at the Texas Office of Administrative Hearings ruled in the community group’s favor, only to be reversed by the Governor-appointed TCEQ commissioners. That led to the court challenge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which issued its decision essentially deleting the state permit yesterday.
For a copy of the court decision, click here.
The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit organization, based in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment.
The Port Arthur Community Action Network is a community-based, environmental justice non-profit organization working to protect the people of Port Arthur, Texas.
Lone Star Legal Aid’s mission is to protect and advance the civil legal rights of the millions of Texans living in poverty in its 76-county service area by providing free advocacy, legal representation, and community education that ensures equal access to justice.
Media contacts: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project (443) 510-2574 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John Beard, Port Arthur Community Action Network (409) 626-1179 or email@example.com
Clarissa Ayala, Lone Star Legal Aid (832) 627-8404 or firstname.lastname@example.org