NOAA Sides With Oregon in Pipeline Project Appeal

Jordan Cove Energy Project and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline can’t skirt the permits Oregon denied, the federal government affirmed Monday.

A Canadian company wants to construct and operate a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon. (Photo by Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

(CN) — Another death knell sounded Monday for the controversial natural gas pipeline and export terminal proposed by a Canadian company for southern Oregon.

The U.S. Department of Commerce on Monday upheld Oregon’s denial of a key permit in the project — a consistency review under the Coastal Zone Management Act. That could be game over for the project, since its main federal permit, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority in March last year, requires the Canadian company behind the project to obtain all necessary state permits before beginning construction.

Oregon denied three key state permits: the consistency review under the Coastal Zone Management Act, a water quality permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and a dredging permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands.

Pembina Pipeline asked the federal government to override the state’s regulatory authority but the Calgary-based company struck out.

Last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied Pembina’s request for a declaration that Oregon waived its right to permit the project under the Clean Water Act. In May 2019, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality had 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 eelgrass beds that serve as tidal nurseries for countless ocean species.

The federal agency’s own approval of the project noted that 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.”

Benjamin Friedman, the deputy under secretary for operations performing the duties of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator, added Monday that the project would likely degrade essential fish habitat and harm land culturally significant to three tribal nations: the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

Pembina didn’t show how it would protect the Coos Bay Estuary, a traditional cultural property known to the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians as “Q’alya ta Kukwis shichdii me,” according to state and federal regulators. The area is rife with former village, ceremonial and burial sites. And even though Jordan Cove’s export terminal would plop construction disposal areas, pipe storage yards and new roads onto Q’alya ta Kukwis shichdii me, Pembina didn’t describe how such disturbance would affect the tribe’s cultural property. That was one reason Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied Jordan Cove’s federal consistency review and federal agencies on Monday backed up that decision.

Pembina also did not submit the full ethnographic report the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requested, which would have fully identified other areas of cultural importance that need to be protected from damage by the 229-mile pipeline. The federal agency asked Pembina to interview tribal elders of tribes with ancestral or ceded land along the project route and submit evidence detailing areas of religious or cultural importance, as well as plants and animals that were traditionally hunted and gathered in the area.

An analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which the deputy under secretary relied on for Monday’s decision, called the risk of harm to cultural and historic tribal resources “potentially substantial.”

Pembina also didn’t detail the effects of dredging Coos Bay on threatened and endangered species like Coho salmon and on the myriad species that rely on the bay’s eelgrass beds, NOAA found. And dredging over 17 million cubic yards of material from the bay — a process that would take place 24 hours per day for more than three years — would significantly worsen water quality. Salinity, temperature and turbidity would all be affected. How much, NOAA couldn’t say, noting that Pembina hadn’t described what those effects would look like either.

Klamath Tribal member Paul Wilson applauded Monday’s decision, which he said was the result of a combination of tribal voices, landowners and community groups.

“This is some light at the end of the tunnel as we continue to fight for the safety of our communities and our water systems,” Wilson said. “This decision means that Pembina can’t roll over Oregon’s authority, rural communities, and Indigenous livelihoods.”

After nearly a decade of fighting companies wanting to build this pipeline, community groups said Monday they hoped this decision would finally mark the end of an era.

“It is long past time for the proponents to acknowledge they do not and cannot comply with key environmental safeguards and permanently withdraw the dangerous proposal,” Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands said. “We encourage them to do so now.”

Representatives for Pembina Pipeline did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

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