Activists, Fishermen Argue Rio Grande LNG Terminal Permit is Too Obliging to Industry

(Reuters) — Environmental groups and fishermen on Wednesday told a federal appeals court the U.S. government’s permitting for a Gulf Coast natural gas export terminal was too accommodating to industry interests at the expense of wetlands.

During oral arguments in New Orleans, Sierra Club attorney Thomas Gosselin, who represents the groups petitioning the permit, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act permit for the Rio Grande LNG export terminal and the related Rio Bravo Pipeline Project would cause sustained damage to wetlands in southern Texas.

The permit allows developers to discharge dredged or fill material into waterways, including wetlands.

Gosselin said the Army Corps ignored alternative locations and pathways for the infrastructure that would have resulted in less wetland disturbance – including non-wetland areas left vacant after a related pipeline pathway option was scrapped. Disregarding the potential for storing materials and machinery on dry land violated the government’s duty to approve a project with the least impact on protected wetlands as possible, Gosselin said.

“The Army Corps can’t reject an alternative because there are amenities or other benefits that the developers may or may not desire,” Gosselin said, referring to the Corps' arguments that the other locations would require more work to be done since the areas are not as accessible.

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Rebecca Jaffe said meanwhile the petitioners' assessment minimized the Army Corps’ process and overarching concerns about those alternatives. Petitioners are essentially asking that the massive 984-acre Port of Brownsville export terminal, and the construction plans for related infrastructure like pipelines, be redesigned to meet their demands, Jaffe said. But doing so could cost the developers tens of millions of dollars and introduce numerous safety concerns, she said.

“Even if you could shift everything over and you didn’t need the storage space ... you still have all the safety issues,” Jaffe said. “The Corps concluded it would cost tens of millions of dollars for developers and it would be approximately 245,000 dump trucks going back and forth on local roads.”

An attorney for the developers, who intervened to support the government, told the court the project is needed to provide European and Asian markets with natural gas. That need is even greater now due to geopolitical uncertainties in eastern Europe over the past year, Jeremy Marwell of Vinson & Elkins said.

Enbridge spokesperson Michael Barnes said in a statement that the company, which owns the Rio Bravo pipelines that will provide the terminal with natural gas, believes they have provided the court with “valuable information” to make an “informed decision” in the case.

The case is Shrimpers and Fishermen of the RGV v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-60889.

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