BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Sierra Club Brownsville organizer Rebekah Hinojosa says low-income residents, shrimpers, environmental groups, local cities and landowners have lost their latest battle to stop liquefied natural gas export terminals coming to the Rio Grande Valley.
Hinojosa said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected their request to reverse its approval of the Rio Grande LNG fracked gas facility that could be built at the Port of Brownsville.
Hinojosa said the move by FERC demonstrates that the agency has dismissed the groups’ justifiable concerns about elevated pollution and potentially devastating damage to the local tourism and fishing industries.
“For years, South Texans have made it clear that we oppose Rio Grande LNG, the Rio Bravo Pipeline, and the other dangerous, unnecessary fracked gas projects proposed in our community, and once again, FERC has failed to listen to us,” Hinojosa said.
“These projects would disproportionately impact our already-marginalized Latino community, subject us to increased air pollution, and threaten our local tourism economy. With this decision, FERC has completely dismissed those concerns and signaled that we do not have the same environmental rights as other people. We will not stop fighting to ensure that these dangerous facilities are never built.”
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters.
Three LNG companies have won FERC approval to build liquefied natural gas export terminals at the Port of Brownsville. They could make a decision on whether to make the investment in the first half of this year.
Hinojosa pointed out that Rio Grande LNG plans to build the largest liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Port of Brownsville. She said building the facilities will require the destruction of thousands of acres of wetlands and irreplaceable habitat for wildlife, including fisheries and the endangered ocelot.
The vast majority of the wetlands in the Rio Grande Valley have already been lost, Hinojosa explained, and the sites for the proposed facilities make up a sizable share of what’s left.
Erin Gaines, attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, is also disappointed with FERC’s decision to uphold approval of the Rio Grande LNG fracked gas facility that could be built at the Port of Brownsville. TRLA is representing members of the grassroots Vecinos para el Bienestar de la Comunidad Costera.
“FERC is legally required to evaluate the impacts of this proposed facility and the other two nearby facilities on low-income and minority communities,” Gaines said. “With this decision, they have failed to live up to that responsibility.”
Low-income residents, shrimpers, the cities of Port Isabel, South Padre Island, and Laguna Vista, Sierra Club, and TRLA, on behalf of its clients, have fought to challenge permits and federal environmental reviews for the plants by FERC and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
On Dec. 23, FERC authorized construction of all three plants, despite deficiencies raised in hundreds of pages of comments by opponents of the facilities. The opponents responded by requesting a “re-hearing” of the proposed Rio Grande LNG facility.
“The massive amount of air pollution that the Rio Grande LNG facility will generate is a very serious health concern for residents, especially those who already have respiratory problems like asthma,” said TRLA attorney Kathryn Youker, who also represents members of Vecinos.
“In addition, people in Laguna Heights, which would be in the path of air pollution from Rio Grande LNG, are disproportionately burdened because they do not have access to nearby health care. They have to travel far to get to clinics and hospitals.”
The Sierra Club and TRLA is pleased with the stance taken by FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, who dissented from the majority on the Dec. 23 decision to authorize construction of all three plants.
Glick wrote: “The upshot of the Commission’s approach is to signal to developers that they can sidestep environmental justice concerns so long as they ensure that all, or substantially all, of a project’s adverse impacts fall on low-income or minority communities.”