Oregon, Environmental Groups Take Aim at Pipeline Project

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting in Washington on May 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

(CN) — Challenges piled up Wednesday over federal approval of a proposed natural gas pipeline and export terminal. Oregon questioned the pipeline company’s assertion that the federal government can override state regulation under the Clean Water Act, while environmentalists sued in the D.C. Circuit.

Federal regulators in March approved the hotly contested natural gas project, with one big catch: the Canadian company behind the project must first get approval from state regulators, who have already denied key permits.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown called Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of the project “stunning,” given that it was issued during a national and state emergency.

“I have asked the state’s lawyers to consider all appropriate legal action to assure that Oregon permitting processes will be followed,” Brown said at the time.

Even if the state permits never come, federal approval means Pembina Pipeline Corp. can begin using eminent domain to seize land along the pipeline route. Local landowners who oppose the project sued last week, claiming the project doesn’t justify taking their property.

That’s a move Democratic Oregon Senator Ron Wyden vowed to fight.

“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.

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.

Also last week, FERC issued an order denying requests for rehearing of its approval of the project. Rehearing requests raised a wide range of concerns from landowners, the state of Oregon, tribal governments and environmentalists who pointed to the project’s expected harm to spotted owls, snowy plovers, marbled murrelets, salmon, whales, wetlands and the eel grass beds that serve as tidal nurseries for countless ocean species.

FERC’s denial of those requests raised the ire of environmentalists and the state.

A group led by Rogue Riverkeeper sued Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, claiming FERC ignored critical information to rubber stamp a project that is not in the public interest.

The Canadian company behind the proposed 229-mile pipeline wants to move fracked natural gas to a newly built export facility in Coos Bay, Oregon, where it would be shipped to markets in Asia.

“FERC has failed to listen to the people of southern Oregon who stand united against Jordan Cove LNG,” said Allie Rosenbluth of Rogue Climate, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Now, our communities’ concerns about this project will get their time in front of a judge.”

And Oregon filed a protest Wednesday against Pembina’s request that FERC waive the requirement that the Canadian company get approval from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality before beginning construction.

Oregon says Pembina’s application for a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act was flawed and incomplete. The company applied only to the Army Corps of Engineers, not to Oregon, and refused several requests to provide additional necessary information, the protest says.

Nevertheless, Oregon denied the permit on May 6, 2019 without prejudice, but Pembina never reapplied.

In April, Pembina asked FERC to waive its condition that the company get a water quality permit from Oregon. The commission has not yet issued an order responding to that request. Oregon says granting such a request would be illegal under the Clean Water Act.

Meanwhile, a group lobbying on behalf of the Jordan Cove project stepped up efforts to pressure Oregon to approve state permits.

Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative made the rounds of city councils in Wyoming this week, trying to shore up support for the project, which he said would connect fracked gas from the plains to West Coast export terminals.

In a May 19 board meeting for Wyoming’s Sweetwater County in Wyoming at the county, Western States President and CEO Andrew Browning said Jordan Cove would be the answer to what he called “stranded natural gas” from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

“This is the big prize,” Browning told commissioners.

Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in Wednesday’s lawsuit, said the project should never have been proposed.

“The Jordan Cove LNG project would devastate the local environment and weaken efforts to combat the ongoing climate crisis,” Margolis said. “The Trump administration can’t keep ignoring the harm fossil fuel development does to our climate and endangered species.”

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