Oregon will still get to weigh in on water pollution a proposed natural gas pipeline could cause — a significant setback for a project that tribal nations, environmentalists and local landowners have fought for over a decade.
(CN) — In a blow to a fiercely opposed natural gas pipeline and export terminal proposed for southern Oregon, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday voted to deny the pipeline company’s request for a declaration that Oregon waived its right to permit the project under the Clean Water Act.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted in March to approve the project, finding it benefits the public, even though its estimated 2 million tons of carbon emissions each year “could impact the state of Oregon’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
But the approval was conditional and required Jordan Cove and Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp. to secure three state permits — a water quality certification, a dredging permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands, and a federal consistency review from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.
In May 2019, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality found that the company hadn’t shown that the Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas Terminal and 229-mile Pacific Connector Pipeline would be safe for Oregon’s waters or the salmon, whales, wetlands and the eel grass beds that serve as tidal nurseries for countless ocean species.
The state said the Canadian company behind the project could reapply with additional evidence showing the pipeline was safe. Instead, Jordan Cove asked the federal government to override the state’s denial, by finding that Oregon had waived its authority to issue a permit under section 401 of the Clean Water Act.
The five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to deny Pembina’s petition. The commissioners issued an order finding that Jordan Cove didn’t officially file its request for certification under the Clean Water Act with Oregon. The company originally filed its application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017, and Oregon joined the permitting process the next year.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality could not have waived its authority to issue certification for a request it never received, FERC found in its order.
Even if the state permits never come, federal approval meant Jordan Cove could begin using eminent domain to seize land along the pipeline route. Local landowners who oppose the project promptly filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit, claiming the project doesn’t justify taking their property. Opening briefs in the case are expected Friday.
Democratic Oregon Senator Ron Wyden vowed to fight the taking of people’s homes in order to allow a Canadian company to export natural gas to China.
“Kicking off eminent domain proceedings now to rip the homes and private property away from Oregonians battling the economic fallout of this public health crisis fits the textbook definition for being both tone-deaf and mean-spirited,” Wyden said at the time.
Wyden had already asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that Jordan Cove was bullying elderly rural landowners into handing over easements to their properties.
Meanwhile, a group lobbying on behalf of the Jordan Cove project has stepped up efforts to pressure Oregon to approve state permits.
Western States and Tribal Nations Gas Initiative president and CEO Andrew Browning told county commissioners in Wyoming in May that Jordan Cove would be the answer to what he called “stranded natural gas” from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.
Browning told Sweetwater County commissioners that FERC has approved Jordan Cove at the federal level and 14 local permits “but they are really getting jammed at the state level on their air and water permits, so we are working with Pembina. They are working behind the scenes.”
“This is the big prize,” Browning told commissioners at the county’s May 19 board meeting.
Regardless, celebrations are now underway for area tribes, fishermen, climate advocates, local landowners, marine biologists, and a coalition of doctors who are all happy about FERC’s Tuesday decision.
Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin Tribes, called FERC’s order “very encouraging.”
“It is certainly our hope that Pembina will give up on this devastating project once and for all,” Gentry said.