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US energy regulator greenlights gas pipeline expansion across Northwest

Climate activists see the regulator's environmental impact report as a setback that may enable the company behind the Keystone XL Pipeline to increase greenhouse gas emissions across the Pacific Northwest.

(CN) — A Canadian energy company may see plans to increase pipeline capacity of natural gas across the Northwest come to fruition after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday found the project would have little adverse impact on the environment — despite the objections of states and environmentalists. 

The regulator's final environmental impact statement for TC Energy’s “GTN Express Project,” a plan to modify compressor stations along the Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline across Oregon, Washington and Idaho, found the project would result in “limited adverse impacts on the environment.” The agency came to the same conclusions in an earlier draft this past June, after TC Energy applied to expand its pipeline in October 2021.

The project specifically proposes to modify three existing compressor stations while installing new gas cooling bays, turbine compressors and associated piping at the Starbuck and Kent compressor stations in Washington state. The plan would increase the flow of gas from Canada by 150 million cubic feet per day.

Opponents of the project say the increase of methane gas in the region would emit 3.47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for the next 30 years at least.

“This is equivalent to adding 754,000 cars on the road each year until 2052,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement this past August, when he joined attorneys general of California and Oregon in a motion to protest and intervene against TC’s project for impeding on the states’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

“There is insufficient evidence the project serves a public necessity or the public interest,” Ferguson wrote in the motion. “Instead, the evidence indicates that existing customers will subsidize the expansion, and the project will primarily serve the interests of Canadian gas producers in gaining market share, not the needs of American consumers.”

In addition, conservation groups such as Columbia Riverkeeper filed a petition with the commission this past August in opposition to the project, but to no effect given Friday's decision — which did acknowledge the projects effects on climate change, if only in passing.

“With the exception of climate change impacts that are not characterized in this EIS as significant or insignificant, staff concludes that project impacts on the environment would not be significant,” the commission said in its report.

To some, the final assessment is a disappointment.

"From wildfires to droughts, Columbia River communities increasingly experience climate change impacts. That's why West Coast states are united in opposition to GTN's expansion plans," said Lauren Goldberg, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "FERC's approach will worsen the climate crisis, downplaying the impacts of a proposal that will pollute our communities, impact health and safety, and create millions of tons of climate-changing pollution each year."

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