Nov. 20—A Port Arthur resident will now have the chance to make the case against giving an additional air permit for Sempra Energy's Port Arthur LNG plant.
Air emission permits for the first phase of the California-based energy firm's proposed liquid natural gas export terminal already have been granted, but a request for permits for more liquefaction capacity came before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in August.
After a rare split vote from TCEQ commissioners allowing the process to proceed, the State Office of Administrative Hearings spent the past few months deciding if John Beard and the Port Arthur Community Action Network will be impacted by the potential project.
An administrative law judge ruled in favor of Beard on Friday, paving the way for a contested hearing in the next few months.
"We felt that based on the current law and regulations and information we provided, we had a very good case because of the very nature of my health issues and the concerns for the community," Beard told the Enterprise. "We're glad the judge felt similarly."
During this phase of the state's permitting process, individuals or groups have to prove they have some kind of stake in the potential addition of an air emission source in their community — a process designed to weed out obstructive requests.
Once the group's counsel submits their case information to TCEQ administration, there could be a hearing scheduled sometime at the beginning of the year.
TCEQ commissioners then will consider Beard's arguments about how Port Arthur LNG's potential expansion would impact him and people like him living in southern Jefferson County.
"My case was also based on the health issues of my neighbors, but I had to make the case for myself under the application process to be considered," he said. "The air quality is bad enough, but you can't improve it by increasing the emissions allowed into the air."
Work is nearing completion on the relocation of Texas 87 to create a stable foundation to build the project on, but the company recently pushed its schedule for a final investment decision forward into next year.
The first phase of the project, which already is permitted, would establish two natural gas liquefaction trains capable of creating up to 13.5 million tons per year of LNG and three massive storage tanks.
Phase II, which is at question in the hearing, would include two additional liquefaction trains that add another 13.5 mpta of LNG to the terminal's capacity.
In a statement from Port Arthur LNG, representatives told the Enterprise that the company's environmental track record and emission controls have seemed to speak for themselves with state regulators in the past.
"We are reviewing the judge's decision. As part of our commitment to Port Arthur, Port Arthur LNG is committed to ensuring compliance with all air quality requirements for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project. After a thorough eighteen-month independent review of the Phase 2 permit, the TCEQ Executive Director and staff have agreed that our application is protective of the public health and welfare of the environment in the same manner as the Phase 1 permit that was issued by TCEQ five and half years ago. We appreciate the broad support of the City of Port Arthur and Port Arthur community and look forward to the timely issuance of the permit."
Beard said PACAN would be advocating for TCEQ to consider dismissing the permit entirely, not just because of Sempra's potential actions, but also in consideration of the other massive air emitters already established in Port Arthur.
If completed, Port Arthur LNG will join Golden Pass LNG — currently under construction — and Sabine Pass LNG in Cameron Parish, Louisiana for a combined total of three terminals centered around the Jefferson County coast.
In the final environmental impact statement for both phases of Port Arthur LNG published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, regulators also questioned the company's role in cumulative impact.
"If all three LNG projects are constructed, they would result in cumulative impacts on land use, wetlands, and ship traffic in the (Sabine-Neches Waterway)," regulators wrote. "Additionally, if all or some of the several approved and proposed pipeline projects in the region are constructed, they would result in cumulative impacts on biological resources and land use."
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