The time frame is coming down to the wire as to Sabal Trail and its invasion of our riverbeds and springs systems. They have met with nothing but negative comments throughout Georgia and Florida. People have turned out in droves to express their dissent. In spite of this, they move onward with their plan to install a 36” pipeline under the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers, and through the center of this fragile spring system. Our springs heartland is a regional identity unlike any in the world, but vulnerable to developers and oil and gas companies.
Many environmental groups have been active in resisting. Our Santa Fe River Inc. was consistently at the scoping meetings voicing disapproval, and penned multiple op-eds against the pipeline. WWALS, headquartered in Valdosta, along with Spectra Busters, has been the best organized and vociferous. As of this writing, they have successfully obtained a hearing, whose date is not yet set, from an administrative law judge to challenge the Florida DEP’s granting of a permit for the pipeline
Ten years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a windfall for fossil fuels and a disaster for our environment. This terrible act houses the infamous Halliburton Loophole which explicitly exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and gives the petroleum industry carte blanche to pollute at will. This allows them to inject undisclosed poisons into our earth with no accountability.
Equally bad, it gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the ultimate authority over fracked gas pipelines and infrastructure. Also equally bad, it gave the FERC authority over the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, another law of protection now removed. So much for the naïveté of innocent people who think our Environmental Protective Agency will safeguard our drinking water and our environment. It will not. It has bowed to the oil industry.
Another thing Mr. Bush’s Energy Policy Act did in 2005 was repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA). This important act was an anti-monopoly law which protected energy consumers by prohibiting the formation of energy cartels, which could manipulate and regulate energy costs, unfair pricing and exert unfair influence over politicians. This, again, gave the petroleum industry a huge amount of power, influence and money.
Things to know about the FERC: they are autonomous. They are appointed by the president and they are not accountable to anyone, neither Congress nor the White House. Their salaries are paid by the energy industry, the businessmen they regulate.
The FERC has a little help in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott appoints members of the Public Service Commission, the group with the authority to allow pipeline infrastructure in Florida. The FloridaBulldog.org wrote: “As detailed in a state financial disclosure form, the governor’s portfolio included several million dollars invested in the securities of more than two-dozen entities that produce and/or transport natural gas, including several, like Spectra, with substantial Florida operations.” Since the governor has a money investment in Sabal Trail, it would be convenient for him if his appointees were to approve this company’s business activities here. And they have done so. More help for the FERC. Our governor also oversees our Department of Environmental Protection. Recently, the DEP issued a letter of intent to give FERC the permits they need for the pipeline in Florida.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson is policy director of Our Santa Fe River Inc., and Jim Tatum is historian. Both live in Fort White.