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RGV environmentalists sue Army Corps of Engineers after LNG, pipeline projects receive operating permit

A tanker arrives in the Houston Ship Channel near a spot where the road now dead ends into water at the San Jacinto battlefield in Houston
Rick Wilking
A tanker arrives in the Houston Ship Channel — near a spot where the road now dead ends into water at the San Jacinto battlefield in Houston — on March 6, 2014. The battlefield where Texas won its independence from Mexico is disappearing beneath rising sea levels.

You can read this story in Spanish by clicking here

Local environmentalists have sued the Army Corps of Engineers after the agency reissued a permit for a liquified natural gas (LNG) export plant.

The Sierra Club, Save RGV and Shrimpers and Fishers of the RGV filed the lawsuit saying the Rio Grande LNG and the Rio Bravo Pipeline project plans are still too environmentally destructive and violate the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the groups are concerned with the pipeline running through hundreds of acres of protected wetlands.

“These wetlands are important,” Nathan Matthews, an attorney for the Sierra Club told TPR. “We are concerned that the pipeline is going to impact a lot of these wetlands for a long time. The Corps is acting, in essence, at odds with what other federal entities are doing to try to protect and actually proactively restore these wetlands.”

The permit, called a 404 permit under the Clean Water Act, is given to projects that can prove they will mitigate potential impacts to wetlands.

Canada-based energy company Enbridge plans to construct two parallel pipelines, running from Agua Dulce, Texas, to the Port of Brownsville. Constructing the pipelines includes digging trenches, cutting down brush and regular clearing of any returning vegetation to the areas the pipelines are in. Once completed, Enbridge says the pipelines can transfer 4.5 million cubic feet of gas per day from Agua Dulce to Brownsville. Once it reaches Rio Grande LNG, the terminal would liquify the gas and export it across the world.

“The last six miles of the pipeline are passing through the Bahia Grande at the (Lower Rio Grande Valley National) Wildlife Refuge. These are wetlands that the Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal entities, state and local entities as well, have spent a long time proactively trying to restore,” Matthews said.

The environmental groups sued the Army Corps last March when the agency first issued a 404 permit to the LNG and pipeline projects. The permit was suspended a month after the lawsuit was filed, when Rio Grande LNG and Rio Bravo Pipeline changed the design of the projects.

Next Decade, the Houston-based company who owns Rio Grande LNG, says they are “shovel-ready” to begin constructing the LNG export plant. Without the permit currently being contested by the Sierra Club, Save RGV and Shrimpers and Fishers of the RGV, Next Decade cannot begin constructing the plant.

If constructed, Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG—another LNG project slated for construction in the Port of Brownsville—would export LNG across the world after it is funneled from existing and future pipelines.

The lawsuit is a continuation of strong opposition against LNG plants and pipeline projects since the companies selected the Port of Brownsville for their plans. Groups like Save RGV, formally known as Save RGV from LNG, have heavily criticized the environmental impact and hazards of LNG facilities, citing pollution and explosions from LNG plants across the country.

Matthews said the Sierra Club is awaiting response from the Army Corps regarding the lawsuit. The groups’ overall goal is to prevent the LNG export plant and pipelines from being built.

“Our central claim here has to do with: if this project is going to go forward, do it in the way that is the least environmentally harmful,” Matthews said. “We don’t believe that the Corps has demonstrated that this is the least environmentally damaging way to build this pipeline.”

He continued, “Although we want to see the harm reduced as much as possible, we think the best thing to do for these communities and for the environment would just be to say no to this project.”

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Gaige Davila is a reporter for Texas Public Radio's Border and Immigration Desk, working from his hometown, Port Isabel, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley.