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Oregon, others petition FERC to halt gas pipeline

By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune

Groups say the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to meet standards set in the Clean Water Act, Coast Zone Management Act

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The state of Oregon and the National Marine Fisheries Service filed separate petitions Tuesday for a new hearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in an attempt to stop construction of a liquefied natural gas import terminal in Coos Bay and a gas pipeline that would cross the upper Rogue River watershed.

They joined a coalition of local residents, environmental groups and fishermen who filed a similar petition on Saturday, asking FERC to reconsider its December approval of the terminal and 234-mile pipeline from Coos Bay to Malin near the California border.

In challenging FERC's decision, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Attorney General John Kroger said the commission failed to meet standards set in the Federal Clean Water Act and the Coast Zone Management Act.

In addition, the decision failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of the proposed project, much less the need or alternatives available, they said.

"FERC continues to ignore Oregon's very real concerns about the unknown environmental impact of the pipeline associated with the proposed LNG facility," Kulongoski said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "FERC's decision to issue a conditional license for a project with such profound potential impacts on the lives of Oregonians was based on woefully inadequate information that demands reconsideration."

"FERC has failed to do its job and conduct the kind of environmental analysis that is required under multiple federal statutes," Kroger added. "The United States should be striving for energy independence instead of relying on fossil fuels imported from countries like Russia and Iran. This takes us in the wrong direction."

The state will appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals if FERC doesn't grant a rehearing, Kroger said.

The NMFS said in its petition filed from its Seattle office that the commission failed to complete required consultation with the service regarding the project's effects on threatened or endangered marine species and their critical habitat and on essential fish habitat.

While Shady Cove resident Bob Barker, whose property would be crossed by the pipeline, is worried about potential environmental damage, his principal concern is for private property owners.

"This intrusion on private property rights and the Oregon environment is not justified by a project that will increase our dependence on foreign source natural gas when the domestic supply of natural gas is sufficient to meet U.S. needs for the foreseeable future," he said.

"I am appalled that FERC would grant approval for a project of this nature with its enormous threats to Oregon's waters, forests and communities without due diligence in fully analyzing its necessity or impacts," added Lesley Adams of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

If the commission, which has 30 days to respond to the rehearing request, denies the petition, opponents will file a lawsuit with the 9th Circuit to stop the project, Adams said.

The 185-page petition lists numerous claims that the decision violated a variety of laws, including protecting fish and wildlife on public lands and showing a need for the energy, according to Susan Jane Brown, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene which represents the plaintiffs.

Estimated to cost between $700 million and $850 million, the terminal and 3-foot-diameter buried pipeline project is being spearheaded by Williams Northwest Pipeline of Salt Lake City. Company representatives repeatedly have stressed the project is safe and not a threat to the environment or landowners. Project partners include PG&E and Fort Chicago Energy Partners LP.

The FERC voted 3-1 to approve the project's construction, drawing vows by those opposed to it to appeal for a rehearing. But the Portland-based Energy Action Northwest, a business and labor coalition promoting energy development, supports the project, arguing that it will provide affordable energy and additional jobs.

Opponents say the project will make the West Coast energy grid too dependent on natural gas coming from politically unstable countries such as Russia and those in the Middle East. It also will allow developers to use eminent domain to seize private property for the pipeline, they added.

"It is time for FERC to stop catering to outdated energy systems of the past and get on board with energy-independent, energy-efficient, renewable energy systems of the future," said Coos Bay resident Jody McCaffree, an opponent of the project since it was first proposed in 2005.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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