State of Oregon Tells Feds
by Cassandra Profita
The state of Oregon has joined a chorus of legal challenges to the federal approval of the Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas project.
In a 100-page document sent Monday, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Meyers asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a rehearing of the Bradwood decision, arguing the board overlooked environmental impacts of the project and violated several federal laws in granting conditional approval of the project last month.
Meyers' concerns echo those of several tribal, conservation and citizen groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Washington Department of Ecology, all of which are insisting that FERC's ruling on the Bradwood project was premature and illegal.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski led the charge, citing both environmental and procedural concerns. A rehearing is the final administrative step the governor must take before legal action can be initiated.
"FERC's decision to license the facility before the state has approved required water quality, air quality and coastal consistency permits, before the effects on fish have been studied and before environmental mitigation plans have been fully developed shows a complete disregard for the state's role and our concerns with the project," Kulongoski said.
"By requesting a rehearing, FERC has one final opportunity to do this right. If Oregon is not afforded a rehearing, legal action is imminent."
Federal law provides FERC 30 days to review the request. If the request is denied, the state of Oregon will have 60 days to file in a U.S. Court of Appeals.
The action concerns the 4-1 vote Sept. 18 when FERC granted a conditional license to the Bradwood LNG terminal and pipeline, requiring 109 mitigation measures to be completed before the project can break ground. Under federal rules, Monday was the deadline for stakeholders in the proceeding to challenge the decision through a request for rehearing.
FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the requests are common in LNG project decisions, and the Commission will have until Nov. 17 to approve or deny them. If a rehearing is granted, the board will weigh the arguments and can either affirm, modify or reverse its initial decision on the project.
Challenges to the outcome of the rehearing go to the U.S. Court of Appeals; additional appeals go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Joe Desmond, vice president of external relations for Bradwood project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc., said the requests won't cause additional delays in his project, but rather serve as legal "placeholders" that allow challengers to take the project approval to court if needed. Meanwhile, he said, his company is working with federal and state regulators to meet all of its legal obligations.
Collectively, challengers are arguing FERC violated numerous federal laws that govern LNG permitting by issuing a conditional license without a thorough review of the project impacts and without input from the proper state and federal agencies.
They say FERC did not meet its legal requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, Natural Gas Act, Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
Meyers argues FERC should have waited for the state of Oregon to finish its permitting process before approving a license for Bradwood. In making the decision too soon, FERC failed to consider alternatives to the LNG facility, ignored public comments on the project, omitted environmental and safety impacts from its final review and wasn't clear about exactly what conditions NorthernStar would have to meet before the company can start construction, he said.
Conservation, tribal and citizen groups challenged FERC's assessment of impacts to salmon, local communities and landowners living along the proposed Bradwood pipeline.
"There are a huge number of issues that FERC left unresolved, ranging from the project's harm to salmon to impacts on public safety," said Brett VandenHeuvel, attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, which filed a request for rehearing today. "More importantly, the evidence we've submitted clearly shows that relying on foreign LNG is more expensive and more volatile than homegrown renewable energy or domestic gas."
The Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission filed their own request for rehearing asserting that FERC violated its responsibility to the tribes by failing to analyze the project's effects on treaty-reserved rights. The tribes are worried the project will cause irreversible harm to the Columbia River's already fragile salmon populations.
"The tribes have been fighting for too long to restore the basin's fish populations to stand by and watch a new large industrial development in the Columbia River estuary destroy what progress has been made," said N. Kathryn Brigham, CRITFC chairwoman and secretary of the Umatilla Tribe's Board of Trustees. "Protecting the estuary habitat is just another component to protecting fish populations at all stages of their lifecycle. The estuary habitat that will be damaged by the construction and operation of this terminal is essential to the survival of salmon at a critical stage in their life."
LNG is on Path of Fish Sanctuary by Cassandra Profita, Daily Astorian, 11/3/8
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