- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) - Confident that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will eventually issue a license for Oregon LNG’s $6 billion liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline on Warrenton’s Skipanon Peninsula, opponents are calling on Gov. Kate Brown to take a stand against the project.

The commission’s environmental staff held two public comment meetings at the Clatsop County Fair & Expo Center this week, allowing concerned citizens to weigh in on the agency’s draft environmental impact statement for the Oregon LNG project. The nearly 1,000-page draft statement, released in August, concluded that the proposed project will result in adverse environmental impacts on water quality and fish and wildlife habitat, but that the company could minimize and mitigate these impacts to less-than-significant levels.

The commission will review all oral and written comments and respond to them in the final environmental impact statement, scheduled for release in February. The commission will consider the final statement when deciding whether to authorize Oregon LNG to proceed with development in Warrenton.

Critics questioned the draft statement’s scientific validity and lack of attention to crucial details to Medha Kochhar, environmental project manager with the Office of Energy Projects, a division of the commission; Robert Kopka, a deputy project manager with the commission; and Patricia Terhaar, from HDR, a third-party contractor assisting the commission in the environmental analysis of the project.

Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper - the Hood River-based environmental group opposing the LNG project - said the draft statement has “significant omissions,” such as studies the commission admits should have been included and the public hasn’t had a chance to read.

Joseph Smokey, of Vancouver, Washington, said “the draft EIS is scientifically flawed,” and Laurie Caplan of Astoria called it “incomplete, inaccurate and misleading.”

Echoing a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission written last week by Democratic lawmakers U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a handful of speakers, including state Rep. Deborah Boone, asked the commission to extend the public comment period, set to expire Oct. 6.

“As long as it’s been 10 years now, a few more days won’t really matter,” Boone said, pointing out that the effort to bring LNG to the North Coast has persisted since 2004.

Most of the 77 opponents who testified raised many of the same objections introduced during the city of Warrenton’s recent hearings on Oregon LNG’s land use permit applications.

The scientific consensus on the reality of global climate change, the need to transition away from fossil fuel-based infrastructure toward sustainable energy alternatives, and the view that the impending Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami should represent a deal-breaker for an LNG facility - these themes dominated the public comments at the meeting. Concerns that the project would increase traffic congestion, decrease property values, jeopardize North Coast tourism and affect public safety trailed close behind.

But opponents, recognizing that the commission has never denied an LNG project, also took up a new charge: Get the governor to exercise her authority and direct state agencies to deny the project.

An anti-LNG rally outside the Exhibit Hall broke into chants of “Gov. Brown, turn it down!” and “Fracked gas, LNG: not in our community!” In the fairgrounds’ arena serving as a hospitality room, dozens of opponents took turns signing a large portrait of Brown captioned, “We’re counting on you, Governor Brown! Stand up for Oregon - Say no to LNG!”

“This project cannot happen without the blessing of the governor,” Serres said. “The agencies that are reviewing this project will take their direction from her.”

He added that the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, for example, has the legal footing to deny the Oregon LNG project because Clatsop County - which denied the company’s permit application to build a section of pipeline - has already indicated that the project may conflict with aquatic zone standards and other regulations.

“Where states say no to LNG, these projects don’t happen, so we need Gov. Brown and the state of Oregon to send a message to Oregon LNG and its investors that this project is not moving forward,” Serres said.

Kevin Hays, a Clatsop County resident whose property would be impacted by the pipeline development, said at the rally, “I would hope our current governor has the intelligence, integrity and courage to get off the fence and put an end to this thing.”

Several speakers directed their comments to Brown.

“You call this a public hearing, but we know FERC isn’t listening,” Caplan said, questioning the agency’s neutrality. “Gov. Brown, are you listening?”

Though no supporters spoke during the second meeting, which drew more than 100 attendees, three took the mic during the earlier, less-well-attended meeting.

Dismissing the opponents’ “doom and gloom,” Beatrice Jenkins, of Woodland, Washington, said communities that develop pipeline projects find ways to adapt to the new circumstances. The residents who leave the community because of the pipeline project may be replaced by newly hired employees of the company, she said.

Oregon LNG has argued that the terminal and pipeline construction would create thousands of new jobs, more than 100 permanent jobs and bring in more than $90 million in new annual tax revenues to Clatsop County.

“I would like to see us not using fossil fuels, but anybody that drove here in a car today and doesn’t want fossil fuels - you’re a hypocrite. I’m sorry,” Jim Larson of Astoria said. “I just wanted to stand up and say, not everybody in Clatsop County is against this thing.”

Like Caplan, some LNG opponents criticized the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, characterizing the commissioners as “captive regulators” and the agency as a “rubber stamp” for the fossil fuel industry.

In fact, Ted Messing of Brownsmead told the panel, “We’re pretty sure you’re going to approve this matter no matter what our community wants,” then presented them with a large handmaid “rubber stamp” replica.

“I thought perhaps your rubber stamp was getting worn out, so I made you a new one,” he said, holding up the prop. “As you see, it says ‘OK’ on it, so it should be pretty easy to use.”

___

Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

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