A Gas Line Has Two U.S. Agencies in a Climate Change Dustup

A $1.4 billion natural gas line proposed by TransCanada Corp. is pitting two U.S. government agencies against each other and drawing attention to how major energy projects are reviewed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to undertake a “proper” analysis of climate change in its final environmental impact statement for the 160-mile (257-kilometer) Leach Xpress pipeline, according to a filing on Tuesday. Its input was at odds with the commission’s finding in April that the link would have limited effect on the environment that could be addressed.

“It’s been FERC’s decision to do a more limited scope of review” for these projects than the EPA has called for, Tyson Slocum, Washington-based director of energy at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said by phone.

The rift exposes divisions at the federal level over the approval process for pipelines when climate change is taken into account at a time when the U.S. gas network is undergoing a massive expansion driven by booming production. The filing comes on the heels of a call by the Obama administration in August for federal agencies to step up their assessment of global warming impacts in their review of projects.

"We view FERC’s response to our comments as very concerning in light of" the Obama administration’s new guidelines on greenhouse gas impacts, the EPA said in its letter to the commission. The agency seeks "a definitive resolution to this matter before you publish a record of decision."

Increased output from prolific shale formations, such as the Marcellus in the Northeast, is driving developers to extend the pipeline network to bring more of the fuel to consumers. The commission has approved more than 880 miles (1,416 kilometers) of lines this year alone, the most since at least 2010.

The Leach Xpress project would allow for the shipment of 1.5 million dekatherms per day of natural gas from the Appalachian supply basin, or enough of the fuel to power about 14.3 million homes annually. The link is scheduled to start in the second half of 2017, according to the project website.

The commission declined to comment by phone. TransCanada, which bought Columbia Pipeline Group Inc. -- the company behind the project -- earlier this year, said the commission determines the level of environmental reviews.

"Comprehensive environmental studies were conducted and results were provided in our applications to the FERC," Scott Castleman, a spokesman, said by e-mail.

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