Georgia legislature overwhelmingly rejects river easements for Sabal “Sinkhole” Trail fracked methane pipeline

Update 2016-03-28: “It’s the most votes I’ve ever gotten on anything.” —Neill Herring of Georgia Sierra Club.

Tuesday and today, Georgia’s elected legislators stood up for the people against a fracked methane pipeline invader:

Y’all! We don’t win votes on the House floor every day, and the effort to keep the state easements for the Sabal Trail pipeline was truly a joy to watch. R’s, D’s, lawyers, community folk, everyone pitched in and it “went down in flames” 34-128 — AJC [Atlanta Journal Constitution] reporter’s words, not mine! Congrats to all the Georgia Water Coalition….

That’s how Georgia Sierra Club’s Colleen Kiernan summed up what happened Tuesday to the river drilling easements for Spectra Energy’s fracked gas Sabal “Sinkhole” Trail pipeline. Yes, the same Spectra of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project, PennEast, Atlantic Bridge, South Texas Expansion, the West Coast Pipeline in British Columbia, and far too many other unnecessary pipeline invasions throughout North America.

Georgia Water Coalition organized this excellent result, including Waterkeeper members Flint Riverkeeper and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Affiliate WWALS Watershed Coalition, along with Sierra Club, environmental law firm Greenlaw of Atlanta, Georgia River Network, SpectraBusters, and other groups and individuals too numerous to mention, on the statehouse floor in Atlanta, calling and emailing legislators, letters to the editor, and blogging on the Internet, facebook, twitter, etc.

Georgia Water Coalition listed Sabal Trail in its Dirty Dozen 2015, for the second year running, introducing it:

Southwest Georgia residents are fighting an invader—a 3-foot wide, 500-mile-long monster of a natural gas pipeline that would ultimately stretch from Alabama to Central Florida. Its owners have called it the Sabal Trail Pipeline, put opponents have dubbed it the “Sinkhole Trail Pipeline” because of its dangerous path through southwest Georgia where sinkholes are common and could result in catastrophic gas leaks. While Florida Power & Light and its customers get the natural gas, Georgians would only have their property taken and be left living with the constant threat of pipeline leaks that could contaminate drinking water or result in life-threatening explosions. If approved by federal authorities and Georgia environmental regulators, pipeline companies would be granted the right to take private property by eminent domain.

Today, Thursday, was the last day of the Georgia legislative session. Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers concluded: “It is finished. It came out of Rules ‘clean’ and it was passed by the House, unanimously.”

Mark Woodall of Georgia Sierra Club added, “Yes indeed, the Rules Committee put on the Gerald Greene-Barbra Sims amendment to SR 954 this morning taking off the Sabal Trail easements and the House passed it about 12:20, 167-0 I think. So it’s on the Governor’s desk now with just the DOT, GA Power, EMC and other easements.”

John S. Quarterman, President, WWALS Watershed Coalition, the Waterkeeper® Affiliate for the Withlacoochee River and Okapilco Creek, explained, “So the governor can’t veto what he doesn’t get. Sabal Trail’s Georgia river easements are dead!”

We all know the fight isn’t over. Sabal Trail is already suing lawndowners in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama for federal eminent domain, after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) already issued Sabal Trail a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity in February. We won’t be surprised if Spectra sues Georgia. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t issued a permit yet, and usually doesn’t until all state permits are in. Which ain’t gonna happen for that Georgia river easement permit. Can FERC issue a construction go-ahead without the Army Corps permit?

Meanwhile, there are six Sabal Trail rehearing requests before FERC, including one each from the pipeline companies, Sabal Trail and its conjoined twin Williams Transco. FERC a few weeks ago for the first time ever denied a pipeline permit. So even FERC may have second thoughts.

The opposition to Sabal Trail and all its ugly stepsisters is rapidly increasing, including against two more natural gas pipelines in Florida, four or five already-approved liquid natural gas (LNG) export operations, and an already-approved scheme by Florida East Coast Railway to ship LNG up and down Florida and maybe beyond. Hamilton County, Florida, just asked the Army Corps to come do its own report on the springs and sinkholes Sabal Trail didn’t tell FERC about. Keep it in the ground!

We invite all our elected and appointed officials to take our water and property rights off the altar of corporate greed. And this week, greed lost in Georgia in a great victory for the people!