Update: Six weeks into the 2017 Oregon Legislative session

March 22, 2017

By Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director

As predicted in last month’s legislative preview, it’s been a challenging session in the 2017 Oregon Legislature. After several sessions with some real environmental accomplishments (but also partisan divisiveness), we knew we would have a hard slog in making much progress in 2017. So things have gone pretty much as expected so far, and here are some updates on a few of the issues we’re working on.

For the past several sessions, we have been a part of a coalition working to try to put a price on carbon in Oregon. We have gone through various iterations of “cap and trade” and “cap and delegate” bills and have had some good hearings and debates in the legislature. This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority has been to pass a “Clean Energy Jobs bill.” Right now, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee are jointly looking at what might be the best solution for Oregon to create clean energy jobs and hold polluters accountable. The primary contenders so far are Senate Bill 557 and Senate Bill 748, and the committees are holding weekly workgroup meetings to investigate the policies reflected in those bills. You can help move them forward by contacting your legislator and tell them it’s time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

Another climate policy we’ve been spending some time on is an idea called the “Climate Test.” In essence, it is a scaled-down version of a State Environmental Policy Act that would apply to fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Oregon. Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it would require cross-agency communications to consider the impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Such proposed projects would also be subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with an economic analysis that will show whether a project is viable in a world where climate goals are met. We have bills in both chambers – House Bill 3343 and Senate Bill 1007 – and we hope to be having a hearing on them in early April.

Our other top priority, along with the Clean Energy Jobs bill, will be to pass legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As many of you know, the Elliott has been the subject of much debate recently, as the State Land Board tries to dispose of it in order to satisfy its obligations to the Common School Fund. Senate Bill 847 – a Trust Lands Transfer bill similar to what we worked on in the 2015 session – could be a part of that solution. That bill had its first hearing on March 20 and we are hopeful that it will move forward.

We are also working on a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state. House Bill 2131 will help to improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon. House Bill 3344 will make it more difficult to site oil train terminals here. Both bills had their initial public hearings in mid-March and we are awaiting further action on them soon.

A bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters is making progress in the legislature. Senate Bill 3 is moving through the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee now and we are confident that it will have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon.

Another bill of interest is House Bill 2711, which would impose a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas fracking in Oregon. There is currently no fracking happening in Oregon and we’d like to keep it that way, so we’re pushing to move that bill forward in the House Energy and Environment committee.

Finally, on proactive legislation, we are supporting Senate Bill 1008, which will create more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon. The bill had a public hearing in early March and we are monitoring its progress closely. In addition to getting dirty diesel out of our air, it will also pave the way for Oregon to receive $68 million in Volkswagen settlement money to fund clean air work in our state.

One bright note from the session is that we have had to play less defense and fight off fewer bad bills than we often have to do. There have been attempts to roll back public lands protections and to take aim at wolves and cougars. But for the most part, the same dynamic that is keeping some “controversial” bills that we like from getting much traction is also keeping the bad bills at bay!

So, as expected, the 2017 session has had both hazards and opportunities, and we’re trying to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success depends largely on you, so keep calling, writing, and e-mailing your legislators and making a difference for Oregon!


Working to Make Oregon’s Clean Energy Power Grid a Reality

March 21, 2017

Portland General Electric wants to build new fracked gas power plwind-and-solar_largeants which will lock us into decades of climate wrecking fossil fuel pollution.

PGE’s own analysis shows that our future energy needs can be reliably and affordably met with clean renewable energy which will create hundreds of new green energy jobs for our region.

There are 2 ways you can help us to create a landslide of comments to the Oregon Public Utility Commission

Download a comment card toolkit and gather comment cards from your neighbors and friends.

and

Send an email to your circle of contacts inviting them to use the Sierra Club’s website to submit an email comment.

Thanks for all you do.

Contact Gregory Monahan at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org if you need any help or have any questions


Update on the Campaign to Block the Proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery

March 21, 2017

Kalama_kids.jpg

Cowlitz County has approved a permit for the world’s largest gas-to-methanol refinery in Kalama, WA on the Columbia River, thirty-seven miles from Portland. The Department of Ecology has an opportunity to overturn this permit, and stop the project. A Chinese government corporation, Northwest Innovation Works LLC, plans to exploit inexpensive fracked gas and water prices to make methanol for plastic production.

If built, this project would increase fracked gas use by 30% in WA State, entail building new gas pipelines emit over a million tons of new climate pollution per year, drain five million gallons of water per day from the Columbia and Kalama River aquifers, store 72 million gallons of flammable, toxic methanol on soil with moderate to high risk of liquefying in an earthquake.

Please sign this petitionasking the Department of Ecology to do the right thing!

Want to find out more and get involved? Come to this informational forum!

Event Name: Explained: Climate Impacts From the Worlds’ Largest Methanol Refinery

Event Description: A presentation by Sightline Institute’s Tarika Powell on climate, fracking, and the world’s largest natural gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in the nearby town of Kalama, Washington. Click here for event agenda. More details about the event are available here.

When: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:00-8:30 pm

Where: Central Lutheran Church sanctuary 1820 NE 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97212

On April 29th, we will hold a People’s Climate Boat Parade on the Columbia River, pulling media attention to this project. This will be preceded by a rally and followed by a comprehensive activist training.

Fishing boat parade on the Columbia River. Participate from shore at the Port of Kalama marina or sign up to join with your fishing boat!
Saturday, April 29, 2017  10:30 – 11:30 am
Port of Kalama
Attend workshops about effective involvement in your community’s campaign against the coal, oil, and methanol terminals.
Saturday, April 29, 2017  Lunch: noon – 1 pm;  Workshops: 1 – 4 pm
Kalama Community Center
RSVP:Email Landownersandcitizens@gmail.com and RSVP to attend. Be sure to include the following information:
o Your name and phone number
o If you can bring a fishing boat
o If you plan to attend Part One, Part Two or both
o If you need a ride from Vancouver or Longview
o Tell us if you would like to volunteer before April 29th to help make this event a success!


Comment Toolkit: Stop PGE’s Fracked Gas Plans

February 27, 2017

Thank you for helping us transition to 100% clean renewable energy by stopping  Portland General Electric’s plans to build two new gas-fired power plants in Boardman, OR.

wind-and-solar_large

Clicking on the links below will bring up a .pdf document in your web browser which you can either print or download.

Comment cards to submit to the Public Utility Commission

Talking Points to guide your conversations with friends, family and neighbors, when asking them to fill out a comment card

Tips and Tricks for gathering comment cards

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or if you  need any support for gathering comment cards.

Thank you in advance for helping us create a CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE. Your participation will make a difference.

 

Gregory Monahan, (gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org)

Chair, Oregon Beyond Gas & Oil Campaign


Electricity From Clean Renewable Energy Sources

February 16, 2017

Portland General Electric (PGE) wants to build 2 new gas fired electrical power plants next door to the Boardman Coal Plant. If allowed to go forward these plants would lock us into another 40 years of emissions from fracked gas and destroy our chance to move to a clean energy future.

210 kW PV system at SMUD's Hedge substation that is used for grid support

Last year Portland General Electric (PGE) came to the table to help pass the groundbreaking Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act. They committed to sunset their coal use in Oregon and double their clean energy commitments.

Now, less than a year later, PGE has already violated the spirit of our partnership by proposing huge investments in fossil fuel infrastructure. Building new gas-fired power plants will lock Oregon into decades of climate-disrupting fossil fuel energy at a moment when clean energy sources like wind and solar are more affordable than ever. This is the wrong path for our state, and a disappointing step backward from Oregon’s largest utility.

Oregon doesn’t need more fossil fuel powered electricity. PGE’s own analysis concluded that it can meet customers’ power needs reliably and affordably by investing in renewable energy rather than dirty fossil fuels. Plus, the science is clear: from extraction to production to consumption, gas is a dirty fuel that produces significant amounts of pollution.

The Sierra Club is working with a broad coalition of groups to stop Portland General Electric’s plan to build two new gas-fired power plants next door to their Boardman coal plant.

Like all of our campaigns, our strength comes from the bottom up.  So we need people like you get informed and organize our community to stand up to PGE and say “no” to new fossil fuels.  They have financial and political power, so we must have organized people power.  

Join us to learn about our shared campaign to get PGE to break their addiction to fossil fuels.

There is widespread public support for moving away from expanding fossil fuel use and towards clean, renewable energy. People recognize that the only way to lesson the worst impacts of climate change to start NOW, with no more new fossil fuels added to our energy supplies.

For more information Contact:
Gregory Monahan
Chair, Beyond Gas & Oil Team
at: gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org


PGE Tests Biomass at Boardman Coal Plant – New Report Highlights Climate and Forest Consequences for Country’s Largest Biomass Proposal

December 20, 2016

On December 7th, 2016, we released a report analyzing a proposal from Portland General Electric (PGE) to convert the state’s last coal plant in Boardman, Oregon into one of the world’s largest biomass facilities. The report finds that the proposal may pose major implications for air quality, forest health, and carbon reduction goals. The Boardman Power Plant in northern Oregon is slated to retire in 2020. However, this month, staff are testing the plant’s capacity to run on woody material and energy crops. If the test succeeds, the Boardman plant could be converted to run on 100 percent forest biomass for 5 months of the year.

The new report demonstrates the likely implications if the conversion is made. Key findings include:

 An average biomass power facility emits 40-60% more carbon than coal plants do per megawatt hour of energy generated.

 Over 3.8 million tons of trees and woody material would be needed to operate the plant for 5 months a year. Despite claims by biomass advocates, waste feedstock levels are negligible when compared to the facility’s needs. Therefore, whole trees from public lands would constitute the majority of the feedstock needed.

 Over 800 trucks a day would be required to supply the Boardman facility during peak operation.

 PGE is growing a highly invasive species of giant cane as a feedstock. Arundo Donax causes major damage to ecosystems and watersheds and is opposed as a viable energy solution by dozens of environmental grboardman_coaloups.

“The retirement of the Boardman facility creates an opportunity to replace coal with clean energy like wind and solar, which would be in keeping with the landmark coal transition legislation passed in Oregon earlier this year,” said Rhett Lawrence, legislative director for the Oregon Sierra Club. “There is simply no need to turn our forests into fuel because cleaner energy alternatives are already at hand.”

 

Even though the carbon consequences of biomass are well established, Congress is currently considering legislation that would designate biomass energy as “carbon-neutral.” Just as oil, coal, and gas must be kept in the ground, if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, so too must trees be kept in the forest.


FERC Rejects Jordan Cove LNG & Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline – Developer Turns to Trump

December 19, 2016

img_5557A leader from the Yurok Klamath First Nation speaks to a NO LNG Coalition rally at the Oregon State Capitol, November 14, 2016

Article and Photos By Ted Gleichman

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has conclusively rejected the only remaining US West Coast plan to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Canada and the Rockies to Asia. On December 9, 2016, FERC commissioners announced that they had again voted unanimously, 3-0, to refuse federal approval for the $7.6 billion Jordan Cove Energy Project export terminal and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline (PCGP).

Jordan Cove and PCGP are owned by Veresen, Inc., a mid-sized Canadian fossil fuel company trying to use LNG export to catapult into the ranks of the energy big-leagues. On December 15, Jordan Cove announced that they expect that Trump appointees to FERC will reverse the decision, so they intend to restructure the project and reapply for federal approval.

Here’s why Veresen thinks that could work:

FERC is chartered for five members serving five-year terms, and they must be divided between the two major parties (or unaffiliated). Two Republican appointees have completed their terms and those seats are vacant. The three remaining commissioners are all Democrats appointed by President Obama. Because of Senate GOP refusals to consider Administration appointees, the White House did not propose anyone to fill the two GOP vacancies. (Obviously, the expectation was that the Hillary Clinton administration would find two moderate Republicans, to be considered by a Senate that seemed likely to be controlled by Democrats.)

The Trump team will nominate for these two vacancies, and select one of those two to become FERC chair. Presumably, that will happen sometime in the first half of 2017. Then, one of the current Democratic commissioners completes her term June 30. When that vacancy is filled by Trump, his people will constitute a majority. By mid-2019, all five members will be Trump appointees.

FERC’s original ruling against this fracked-gas export project came March 11, 2016, in a 4-0 vote – even the last GOP commissioner opposed Jordan Cove and PCGP. The December 9 decision denied Veresen requests to reopen the federal approval process.

This is FERC’s first-ever LNG export rejection. The agency is funded through back-charging its costs as fees to the energy industry, so it is considered a zero-budget entity for the overstressed federal budget process. FERC is notorious for its easy approvals of dirty fossil fuel projects, making this two-part verdict all the more striking.

FERC’s unprecedented double denial needs to be seen through the frame of an 12-year coordinated grassroots campaign. Dozens of organizations, supporting hundreds of outraged landowners along the pipeline route, have brought together thousands of people all over Oregon to fight this LNG terminal and pipeline.

IMG_4488.JPG

Looking across the route of the Pacific Connector fracked-gas pipeline, where it would slash through the Pacific Crest Trail in Jackson County, Oregon

The pipeline would run 232 miles across four counties in southwest Oregon, slashing a clearcut the width of an interstate highway across two mountain ranges, five rivers, and 400-plus wetlands and waterways. It would terminate at the Pacific Ocean in Coos Bay, in a fragile estuary inlet. There, the largest dredging project in Oregon coastal history would reconstruct a sand spit for a massive industrial plant – destroying oyster beds and fisheries.

The plan FERC rejected required a massive new 420-megawatt gas-fired power plant, solely dedicated to Jordan Cove, to cool the fracked gas to minus-261 degrees Fahrenheit, liquefying it for tanker shipping across the Pacific. That plant would have been the largest single carbon emitter in Oregon.

But along with announcing that they would reapply to FERC, Veresen pulled their request to Oregon to approve the new power plant. They said that they would build gas turbines within the liquefaction plant to cool the gas. This may be cheaper for them to construct, but may emit even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  We’ll be watching as they put out new detailed plans.

All this is planned for the most dangerous earthquake and tsunami zone in North America, the Cascadia subduction zone. The region is overdue for a earthquake that is guaranteed to be the largest in U.S. history. The Cascadia fault lines crack at a minimum of Magnitude 8, and can exceed Magnitude 9. The earthquake zone ruptures on an average of every 250 years; the last time was 317 years ago, in 1700. The tsunami wiped out every Indigenous coastal village from Northern California to Vancouver Island.

Veresen has presented itself to Oregon stakeholders and elected officials as an inevitable success. Financially, though, Jordan Cove and PCGP are arguably the weakest of some three dozen multi-billion dollar North American LNG export facilities, proposed, approved, or already operating.

FERC rejected Veresen’s plans because the company has no guaranteed contracts to sell the fracked gas overseas. Developers must show a so-called “public benefit” for the people of the United States, and FERC defines that to be determined by approval by the market: If a developer can sell a planned fossil fuel product, they’re good to go. FERC had warned the Calgary-based company for years that guaranteed contracts would be critical for permission to move ahead, with specific requests for progress reports – but got back only vague promises that Veresen was unable to fulfill.

That bottom line requirement was compounded by Veresen’s dismal record in negotiating construction easements from hundreds of landowners along the pipeline route. By the March 11 denial, PCGP could show FERC easements from only 10% of ranchers, farmers, and other private-sector landowners.

FERC has the power to authorize eminent domain against landowners. This controversial and destructive tool in fracked-gas pipeline development has led to bitter struggles all over the country. Developers typically have to negotiate about 80 percent consent by affected landowners before FERC is comfortable authorizing eminent domain against hold-out landowners and local communities. Forced deprivation of property rights is no small matter.

Along the PCGP route, landowners and their environmentalist supporters have fought back hard, pledging resistance. According to FERC, the refusal of this enormous majority of landowners along a pipeline route to sign on was unprecedented. In the March 11 and December 9 announcements, FERC detailed deep concern about using unheard-of levels of eminent domain against 90 percent of private landowners for a project that could not demonstrate a “public benefit.”

The most difficult public issue for project opponents has of course been jobs. The developer can claim accurately that billions of dollars of equipment manufacturing and project construction will generate thousands of temporary living-wage jobs. But jobs that ravage communities and public lands and contribute massively to climate change are not “good” jobs. So simultaneously, we consistently advocate for genuine good jobs, sustainable jobs, converting our state to clean energy and rebuilding our infrastructure for earthquake preparedness and other urgent needs.

As Veresen showed with the announcement that they will now rely on Trump, the battle is not over. It will take the company several months to assemble a new application for FERC and other agencies; that will launch a renewed environmental impact statement (EIS) process. Veresen contends that their September 2015 Final EIS from FERC is still valid, but that is public spin. It still exists, for a project that has been denied, like an obsolete law. They can recycle much of it for their new application, but big pieces of it are obsolete – or were environmentally-flawed when written. Oregon continues to process state permit requests, but our coalition is fighting those effectively too.

For now, some 12 years since this Canadian company came to Oregon, Veresen has no clear path to construction: FERC has taken them off the federal map. Even a Trump-controlled FERC has to follow the law – although we can expect them to push against their legal obligations. We will push back at each step in a federal process that would likely take two years to get to another FERC decision. In the meantime, we will triumph over them in local and state decision-making.

In a country filled with critically-important fights to “Keep It In the Ground,” this battle is one of the most consequential. One way or another, grassroots Oregonians are going to continue to defeat dirty, dangerous fossil fuels and build the just transition.

Ted Gleichman is Policy Advisor with the Beyond Gas & Oil Team, Oregon Chapter