U.S. Senator Ron Wyden vowed earlier this month to fight the Canadian company behind a proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal as it begins to try to take the land of locals who oppose Jordan Cove. Meanwhile, the company’s boosters planned a full-page ad in the Sunday Oregonian telling Oregon Governor Kate Brown the pipeline will help Oregon recover economically from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Precipitating all this, the Federal Energy Regulatory commission released an order on May 22 refusing to revisit its decision to approve the Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas Terminal and 229-mile Pacific Connector Pipeline.
In its order, FERC denied requests for rehearing on a wide range of concerns from Oregon, tribal governments, environmentalists and landowners 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.
The issues brought up also involved cultural surveys of lands sacred to area tribes, landowner’s claims that the project doesn’t justify taking their property, worries that the pipeline will inhibit efforts to increase prescribed burns to combat the area’s rampant wildfires and numerous objections from the state of Oregon.
FERC reiterated its stance that the project is in the public interest 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.”
The commission said it can’t even require Jordan Cove to plant trees or buy renewable energy credits to offset the project’s electricity use because it is unable to determine the project’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But it granted several requests from Pembina, the company behind Jordan Cove. The company had asked the federal commission to drop its requirement that it secure several key permits that the state of Oregon had denied.
FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a commission hearing Thursday that Pembina can’t begin construction or clear land until it gets all necessary state permits.
But the commission clarified in its order that an override from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce would satisfy the need for a federal consistency review from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.
And it said it would consider in a separate order whether it would grant Pembina’s request that it waive the requirement for a state permit under the Clean Water Act.
That could have something to do with new Trump administration rules expected to be released imminently that would make it harder for states to enforce regulations under the Clean Water Act.
In March, Governor Brown called FERC’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.
Chairman Chatterjee said that Pembina was free to move forward with eminent domain proceedings to take the land of locals who oppose the project.
Landowners along the pipeline route immediately challenged the order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, claiming the project “is authorizing a foreign company to take our citizens’ land for foreign profit.”
U.S. Democratic Senator Wyden said Friday that he will fight Pembina if it tries to start taking locals’ land. Wyden’s spokesman, Hank Stern, said that legislation is one way Wyden might do that.
“I’ve always had a problem with the use of eminent domain on this project – it is simply not the Oregon Way,” Wyden said in a statement. “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. I will fight this step and any others that boot Oregonians off their land for this project.”
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 would connect fracked gas from the plains to West Coast export terminals.
In meetings with commissioners, 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 for Sweetwater County in Wyoming at the county’s May 19 board meeting.
Sweetwater County agreed to join the Western States, with its standard $5,000 per year membership fee for counties.
And Browning told commissioners the Western States is partnering with Pembina.
“We have jumped in with full partnership with Pembina on their permitting process,” Browning said.
Western States’ spokesman, Bryson Hull said that Pembina is not a member of the group. Pembina spokesman Paul Vogel did not respond to requests to clarify the partnership Browning described.
But Pembina is a member of a separate industry group called Consumer Energy Alliance, where Browning is chief operating officer. Hull said the two groups have separate boards, but shared members. They also share a spokesman. Hull described the partnership between Pembina and Consumer Energy Alliance as being similar to the services provided to farms by the American Farm Bureau.
Browning told the 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.”
The group planned to run an ad in the Oregonian last weekend, Browning said, in an effort to pressure Gov. Brown to support the project as a way to help Oregon recover economically from the pandemic.
“We are in the process of helping put the political heat on Governor Brown,” Browning told commissioners. “We are taking out a full-page ad in the Oregonian, which is the primary paper in Portland, this Sunday.”
The Oregonian did not respond to requests to confirm that the ad would run this weekend.
“We’re not leading with the oil and gas industry although that obviously would be a primary benefit,” Browning said in his description of the ad. “We’ve got about six different labor groups and counties in Oregon that are signing on to this, that are appealing to the governor under the concept of, you know, the vision of the Marshall Plan, of New Deal projects to put America back to work,” he added.
Despite Browning’s claims, Hull said Pembina had nothing to do with it.
“Pembina is not a member of WSTN, and did not pay for — or even suggest the idea of — the open letter we are placing in a full-page ad in the Oregonian on Memorial Day weekend. WSTN conceived of the idea as part of its ongoing advocacy mission, gathered the signatories to the letter and paid for the ad.”
Asked whether Governor Brown might change her stance on Jordan Cove based on the economic circumstances resulting from the pandemic, spokeswoman Nikki Fisher said Brown stands by her previous statement.
“The governor will not stand for any attempt to ignore Oregon’s authority to protect public safety, health, or the environment,” Fisher wrote in an email.
By Karina Brown, for Courthouse News Service