The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
Well, this has been a beautiful spring, hasn’t it? Except for being too dry, and – oh, yes – the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of just about every normal activity. Well, even if organized field trips have been canceled, we can still take joy in solitary (or carefully socially-distanced) birding. I hope you are all getting out and celebrating the beauty and freedom of birds – I certainly have been.
Environmentally, the pandemic has provided a global respite from pollution, as burning of fossil fuels has precipitously declined. And there have been lots of stories of wildlife appearing in urban spaces that are now empty of people. Beyond that, I’m sorry to say I was unable to find positive conservation news for this month’s column. Instead…
Environmental Mischief Under the Cover of the Coronavirus
Anyone following the news knows that the Administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been disastrously delayed, contradictory, and just plain incompetent. But rather than focus all the government’s resources on the pandemic, the Administration has used this period to continue its relentless rollback of environmental regulations. A good summary is here: https://grist.org/politics/trump-is-sneaking-environmental-rollbacks-past-a-nation-in-quarantine/
Here are a few specific examples of Administration actions since March:
- Suspended enforcement of environmental rules, allowing powerplants, factories, and other facilities to deter-mine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/climate/epa-coronavirus-pollution-rules.html)
- Finalized a rollback of fuel economy standards, that according the Administration’s own calculations, will add almost a billion more tons of greenhouse gases emitted over the next five years (https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2020/4/2/21202509/trump-climate-change-fuel-economy-standards-coronavirus-pandemic-peak)
- Rolled back regulations limiting deadly emissions of mercury from power plants (https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/04/16/epa-overhauls-mercury-pollution-rule-despite-opposition-industry-activists-alike/)
- Rejected stricter regulations on emissions of fine particulates, despite overwhelming evidence linking such pollutants to increased mortality from respiratory diseases like COVID-19 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/14/epa-pollution-coronavirus/)
Monsters That Will Not Die: The Pacific Connector Pipeline and Jordan Cove LNG Terminal
Meanwhile, in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic and national health emergency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conditionally approved the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and Pacific Connect-or fracked gas pipeline on March 19. The approval is conditioned on Pembina, the Canadian fossil fuel corporation behind the project, qualifying for critical permits from the state of Oregon, three of which have already been denied or withdrawn.
At a press conference following the announcement, FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee stated, “[Jordan Cove LNG’s] certification does include provisions to file documentation that it has received all applicable authorizations before construction begins on the pipeline.”
“It is outrageous that in this time of crisis, when many people cannot even leave their homes safely, the Federal Government is prioritizing a fracked gas pipeline and export terminal that local communities and the State of Oregon have firmly said no to,” said Sandy Lyon, an impacted landowner in Douglas County. “Pembina can now at-tempt to use eminent domain against Oregon landowners, but construction cannot begin without state approval. We will stand firm against this project and we are counting on Oregon to do the same.”
This decision led to some of the strongest opposition against the project from our elected officials to date, including from Senator Wyden and Governor Kate Brown. Governor Brown’s statement concluded:
“I want to reiterate that I will not stand for any attempt to ignore Oregon’s authority to protect public safety, health, and the environment. I have asked the state’s lawyers to consider all appropriate legal action to assure that Oregon permitting processes will be followed. And let me be clear to the concerned citizens of Southwest Oregon: until this project has received every single required permit from state and local agencies, I will use every available tool to prevent the company from taking early action on condemning private property or clearing land.”
Oregon controls state-owned lands and waters that would be affected by this project and has permitting authority under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Coastal Zone Management Act. After 15 years, Jordan Cove LNG has failed to qualify for any of the necessary state permits to dredge Coos Bay for an LNG export terminal and to trench across Oregon for a 230-mile fracked gas pipeline, threatening harm to tribal resources, private landowners, drinking water, and fishing grounds along the way.
“Pembina has been unable to secure any of the necessary state permits to build in Oregon because there’s no get-ting around the fact that this project would pose an unacceptable threat to Oregon’s communities and waterways and is clearly not in the public interest. It’s disappointing that FERC failed to recognize this, and we plan to seek a rehearing on this misguided decision,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Nathan Matthews. “Regardless, FERC’s approval does nothing to change the fact that this fracked gas export terminal has no path forward and will never be built.”
“FERC’s approval does not change the fact that Oregon has denied this project. Pembina will never be able to show the state of Oregon that this project qualifies for permits under state laws that protect our communities,” said Hannah Sohl, Executive Director of Rogue Climate, a southern Oregon community organization.
“Oregonians from across the political spectrum will continue to stand united until Pembina cancels the proposed fracked gas pipeline and export terminal for good.”
Following this decision, there was a 30-day window to appeal for a rehearing at FERC, and on April 20, the Klamath Tribes, impacted landowners, and over 25 organizations came together to respond to FERC’s approval of the Jordan Cove LNG proposal. This rehearing request told FERC that they wrongly approved the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and fracked gas pipeline and asked them to reconsider their decision. More rehearing requests have been filed, including from the State of Oregon, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. These rehearing requests are an important first step towards challenging the federal approval of the Jordan Cove LNG project in court.
“Evidence in the record clearly indicates this Canadian gas project is anything but in the U.S. public interest,” said Ron Schaaf, whose Klamath County land is on the pipeline route. “On behalf of landowners defending our rights, this decision will be challenged. Every American who cares about private property and state’s rights should be paying attention to the facts of this case.”
Following FERC’s conditional approval, Susan Jane Brown, Public Lands and Wildlife Director and staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) stated, “The state has made clear this climate-destroying project will be too dangerous for Oregonians’ clean water and air. If the federal administration sees fit to ram this project through against Oregonians’ will, WELC and our allies are prepared to defeat the project in or out of the courtroom again.”
Over 40,000 people sent comments to FERC opposing Jordan Cove LNG, and hundreds showed up in opposition at public hearings in Coos, Douglas, Jackson, and Klamath counties last summer.
[Thanks to Rogue Climate and the Sierra Club for information in this summary.]