Fight Teed Up Between Feds, Oregon Over Gas Pipeline Project

(CN) – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted 2–1 against approving the Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline project Thursday, but it could still greenlight the project as soon as next week – potentially sparking a battle between a federal government bent on fast-tracking pipelines and a state that has denied all three of the project’s key permits.

The 229-mile pipeline would be built by Canadian-owned Pembina Pipeline Corp. to take natural gas from Alberta’s oil sands region to a newly built export facility in Coos Bay, Oregon, where it would be shipped to markets in Asia.

The project has inspired fierce opposition from many quarters, including landowners who object to Pembina using eminent domain to build on their land – a move that is only legal for projects of “public convenience and necessity.” The landowners say that doesn’t apply here, with a Canadian company building on land owned by Oregonians in order to sell natural gas in Asia.

State and federal agencies have criticized the harm the project would cause to 20 threatened and endangered species, including Coho salmon, marbled murlets and the coastal eelgrass beds that serve as a nursery for countless ocean species. The federal Pacific Fisheries Management Council said the project would cause “substantial impacts of an unprecedented scale” to Coho habitat. And Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that Jordan Cove was bullying elderly rural landowners into handing over easements to their properties.

Additionally, Oregon has denied all three key state permits – a water quality permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, a dredging permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands, and, released late Wednesday, a federal consistency review from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Governor Kate Brown’s office told The Associated Press this month that she “would consider all available options” if the federal government tries to steamroll Oregon’s regulatory agencies.

The Department of Land Conservation told Pembina in a letter issued Wednesday night that it couldn’t approve the permit under the Oregon Coastal Management Program because of the destruction the project would cause Oregon’s coastal environment. The department added that its objection to the project’s certification makes it illegal for FERC to approve the project unless the U.S. Secretary of Commerce overrides Oregon’s objection.

That was a snag FERC commissioner Bernard McNamee noted at Thursday morning’s commission meeting. McNamee said he needed more information on the state permits to determine whether the Jordan Cove export facility is in the public interest and whether the proposed pipeline is a public convenience necessity.

“I’m going to be voting nay today on Jordan Cove,” McNamee said. “But that is not a hard nay. It’s merely my recognition that yesterday the state of Oregon provided a letter, apparently, to the applicant regarding its permits. I want to see what the state of Oregon said and I need that information to inform my decision whether I’m ultimately going to vote for or against Jordan Cove.”

McNamee said he expects to be able to cast a final vote as soon as next week.

Commissioner Richard Glick also voted against approving the project. Glick pointed to the 2 million tons of carbon the pipeline and export facility would release each year.

“We continue making excuses why we’re not considering project greenhouse gas emissions,” Glick said. “We’re going to run out of excuses.”

He added the commission failed to review impacts to numerous threatened and endangered species, impacts on noise and short-term housing in Coos Bay and impacts to historic properties. And although some of those impacts might be lessened by steps Pembina could take to make the project less harmful, Glick noted that in many cases the commission had not required such mitigating steps.

“That means in the particular project there are impacts the commission does deem significant that we haven’t been able to ameliorate through conditioning,” Glick said. “And so I used to think that what the Natural Gas Act requires is that you consider the benefits of a project, and weigh against adverse impact. We didn’t actually do that. Something’s really rotten with that. In this case, I think the commission earned the reputation for being a rubber stamp for pipeline and LNG projects.”

Pembina spokesman Paul Vogel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chairman Neil Chatterjee voted to approve the project. He said he was disappointed in the outcome of Thursday’s vote, but that it wasn’t over.

“I want to reassure people that today’s vote is not a denial of Jordan Cove’s application. The application remains pending before the commission and we will vote on this matter when we’re ready,” Chatterjee said.

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