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.

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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


Rally sends clear message to State Land Board: “Keep the Elliott Public”

October 13, 2016
On October 11th, nearly 125 Oregonians from across the state gathered on the lawn of the State Land Board building in Salem to send a loud, colorful, and clear message to the State Land Board: the Elliott State Forest needs to be protected and it needs to be kept public. Governor Kate Brown, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler are in the midst of a process that could see the Elliott sold off, most likely to a timber company with its sites set on logging some of the last remnant old growth forest in Oregon’s coast range.
Over 100 Oregonians braved the cold and made their way from all over the state. Photo by Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands)

Over 100 Oregonians braved the cold and made their way from all over the state. Photo by Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands)

It was an excellent turnout with a broad cross section of Oregonians that included native Americans, Coos County residents, hunters, anglers, campers, educators, and kids who are growing up with access to the forest.  One of the most pressing and common concerns is the loss of access to the forest if it is privatized. It is unclear exactly how much and how often the forest would be made open to locals and visitors if it was sold. This is just one of the sale “sideboards” that is inadequate or vague. Protection for aquatic habitat would be reduced by the implementation of weak stream buffers from logging and it appears that much of the old growth would be on the chopping block.
Bob Sallinger of Portland Audubon riles up the crowd (photo by Josh Laughlin)

Bob Sallinger of Portland Audubon riles up the crowd (photo by Josh Laughlin)

38 Oregonians testified before the Land Board, and all of the speakers, except one, provided excellent and powerful testimony on the importance of keeping the Elliott in the public trust. One comment that stuck out was by Fregus McLean.  The economic study commissioned by the state land board to determine the “market value” of the Elliott failed to account for carbon sequestration benefits. Mr. McLean, who is running for Oregon House District 7, provided the economic benefit of saving the Elliott for carbon credits.  His figures indicated that carbon credits could be worth as much as $1.25 billion which is six times greater than the “market value” estimate by LandVest Consulting, the State Land Board’s consultant. It is also worth noting there may be a potential conflict of interest by LandVest that should be investigated.
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Speaking up for all the salmon who couldn’t make the trip to Salem (photo by Josh Laughlin)

The economic value of the Elliott far exceeds the value of timber if you account for carbon sequestration and sale of credits plus recreation, habitat preservation, coho salmon fishery, and many other attributes. This is on top of the hugely important ecological and climate values that the Elliott represents. The Oregon coast range is dominated by private timber holdings—lands that have largely reduced to monoculture tree plantations with bare hillsides and a steady stream of toxic herbicides being sprayed from above. Oregon’s three largest state forests, the Tillamook, Clatsop, and Elliott are some of the last refuges for threatened coho salmon, endangered marbled murrelets, threatened northern spotted owls, and an abundance of other fish, wildlife, and plants. These forests are also a massive carbon sink that has the potential to slow and mitigate climate change.

All this could be lost if Governor Brown and Treasurer Wheeler don’t step up with a real, innovative, and collaborative solution. It would be a low point in Governor Brown’s nascent governorship. For Wheeler, who begins his first term as Mayor of Portland in January, selling the Elliott would run counter to the progressive policies he has promised. Hopefully, our elected leaders heard what they needed to.  Lon Otterby, Vice-Chair of the Sierra Club Many Rivers Group and long-time forest advocate said, “in all my session with the State Land Board this was the most exciting and effective event I have participated on.” Let’s hope Lon is right!
Sierra Club staff with allies from Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild (photo by Josh Laughlin)

Sierra Club staff with allies from Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild (photo by Josh Laughlin)

Written with significant contributions from Howard Saxon and Lon Otterby of the Many Rivers Group. To get involved in the Sierra Club’s effort to protect the Elliott, email Chris Smith (chris.smith@sierraclub.org).

Save Our Elliott State Forest

September 29, 2016
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Threatened wild coho salmon spawning in upper Lietel Creek, a tributary of Tahkenitch Lake (photo by Jim Yuskavitch)


Governor Kate Brown and the State Land Board are considering a proposal to sell off the Elliott to logging corporations
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Located in the Southern Oregon Coast Range, theElliott State Forest is a 93,000-acre state owned forestland containing some of Oregon’s last remaining coastal old-growth. Approximately half of the forest is over a century old. It provides a home to threatened and endangered species, vital habitat to elk, black bear, and deer, and some of the strongest wild salmon and steelhead runs left on the Oregon Coast. Biologists estimate that 22% of all wild Oregon coastal coho salmon originate in the Elliott.

Unfortunately, privatizing the Elliott will almost certainly lead to industrial-style logging of the surviving old-growth, and the destruction of salmon and wildlife habitat. It would also mean the loss of public access to the land – including hunting and fishing – something we treasure as Oregonians.

There are three ways you can get involved in protecting this Oregon gem:

1. Learn More –  Attend a Teach-In on October 4th or 6th in Portland

Sierra Club and Portland Audubon are hosting teach-ins at their respective headquarters. These are great opportunities to learn more about the Elliott and the threats that it faces – details here.

2. Attend a Rally in Salem on October 11th

Rally with fellow conservation advocates from across the state to demand that the Elliott stays in public ownership and its natural resources are protected. Wear green to show support for protecting this critical wildlife habitat for Marbled Murrelets and Northern Spotted Owls. 

When: October 11th, Rally starts at 9 AM

Where: State Land Board Meeting in Salem – Department of State Lands 775 Summer St. Salem OR 97301

RSVP for the Rally and Carpool Here!

Coast Range Forest Watch is hosting a carpool to the rally from Coos Bay – details here.

3. Write to the State Land Board

Click here to take action today and tell Governor Kate Brown, Treasurer Ted Wheeler, and Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins that we will not accept the privatization of our public lands.

 


Homesteader: 1890 – 2016

April 20, 2016

Northwest Oregon’s state-owned forests are comprised of less than .01% old growth, a stunning number that indicates their fraught history of devastating fires and aggressive logging. A notable patch of the Clatsop State Forest contains a timber sale known as “Homesteader.” One part of this sale (Area 2) especially, contained a stand trees upwards of 125 years old that had survived massive fires and over a century of logging. This parcel had numerous old growth characteristics and showed signs of providing rare habitat for threatened species, including marbled murrelets, red tree voles, and northern spotted owls. The area also contained “survey and manage” species that, on National Forest land, would have required that no logging occur in the entire stand of old growth. Unfortunately, such protections do not apply to state forest lands. Its location on the bank of the Nehalem River also makes Area 2 important to aquatic species. And, for about two years, activists, surveyors, and researchers exploring the area enjoyed its accessibility, tranquility, and abundance of biodiversity.

Beginning in April of 2015, thousands of Oregonians submitted public comments to the Oregon Department of Forestry [ODF] asking that this parcel of old growth not be logged. Official public comments were supplemented by letters, media pieces, and general outcry from Oregonians (especially Clatsop County residents). The voices were varied but the message was clear: “old growth is rare, it is critical, it should not be logged.”

ODF responded to this message rapidly. On state forests, timber sales commonly take 1-3 years between the announcement of the sale in an Annual Operations Plan and commencement of logging. In the case of Homesteader, perhaps because of intense public scrutiny and dissent, logging occurred less than 10 months after being announced. The trees were auctioned off in January and as of March, what used to be a lush forest is now something altogether different:

Cut - Tryg

Photo by Trygve Steen

Part of the blame for this expedited degradation of public land can be placed on ODF. However, the Agency is in a bind. They are expected to manage these state forests for a suite of values—social, environmental, and economic—yet they are only funded by logging. Moreover, 2/3 of state forest revenue goes to counties while 1/3 is retained by ODF. In 2015, state forest logging contributed $55 million to counties across Oregon. And yet, some counties are engaging in a disruptive lawsuit claiming that state forests are not producing enough timber! Meanwhile, ODF’s budget, like other natural resource agencies, continues to dwindle.

Oregon has changed and is changing. Logging is no longer a primary economic driver. While logging will remain a part of our history, culture, and (to an extent) our economy, Oregon’s present and future is built around outdoor recreation, fisheries, tourism, quality of life, and natural beauty. Yet private and public forest management has so far failed to keep up with the will of the people. Part of catching up is a balanced management plan for our coastal state forests, a plan that protects critical areas like Homesteader.

Photo by Trygve Steen

Photo by Trygve Steen


The Hardesty Wildlands need your help!

February 5, 2016

View from Mt. June

What’s happened to all the wild places?

While once the whole world was wild, now we’re left only with dark pockets. Again and again we return to these hidden, mossy stream-sides, because we intrinsically feel better there. There’s something about the wind circling through high hemlock canopies, and the impacted delicacy of wet soil that makes us unmistakably happy.

Despite the scarcity of wild places, they remain threatened, primarily—and unsurprisingly—by logging interests.

One of these threatened beauties is the Hardesty Wildlands area. Two mountains—Hardesty and June—reside in this temperate rainforest containing over 7,000 acres of roadless, wilderness-quality lands. Only 30 miles southeast of Eugene, the Hardesty Wildlands are unblemished by the close proximity of the city; this is a forest free of roads, and rich with mature and old-growth trees.

A number of animals find refuge here among the ferns and the fallen logs, among the huckleberries and the giant Douglas firs, including spotted owls, elk, and eagles. Humans, as well, seek refuge on the 20 miles of hiking trails. In spring visitors may find wildflowers here, wild ginger and calypso orchids tucked along pathways to great mountain ridges, to wide views of the snow-struck cascades, to the blue haze of the coast range. In fall they may find mushrooms on the back side of a rotting log, or tucked at the base of a vine maple, the air cold and quiet except for the blustering song of a raven.

Old-growth forests like those found in Hardesty also help store carbon and decrease the effects of climate change. Hardesty’s forest-filtered, pristine streams provide clean water, eventually serving as the domestic water source for the nearby town of Cottage Grove. Although the Hardesty Wildlands are a priceless resource for all Oregonians, this is especially true for those in nearby cities like Eugene and Springfield who relish having this wild place in their backyard.

The movement to permanently protect Hardesty has been underway since the 1970’s. Through the combined efforts of the Sierra Club, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands, the campaign continues today as groups seek to make the Hardesty Wildlands a federally designated Forest Conservation Area.

HardestyMap
But recently, a major problem has emerged: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has opened up over 800 acres for commercial timber sales on the east side of Mt. June in what is known as the Lost Creek timber harvest plan. Two parcels of this plan have already been sold to the highest bidder. The Anthony Access parcel would see 108 acres thinned and 52 acres lost to clear-cutting—or what is euphemistically called “regeneration harvesting,” in which only six to eight trees are left standing per acre—in the Lost Creek Drainage, while the John’s Last Stand parcel would entail a loss of 49 acres to clear-cutting using helicopters. This proposed cut, sold at auction for just over $100,000, represents a modest short-term profit for the logging company, but poses a long-term impact to our publicly owned forest.

With less than 10% of the original old-growth forests remaining in Oregon, we must recognize that these last fragments of roadless forest hold incalculable value as a living complex of interrelated species. The Hardesty Wildlands must be saved and restored as a place for scientific study, and as a last holdout for wildlife habitat, water and air quality, recreation, and renewal of the human spirit.

Wildflowers on Mt. June

Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Sierra Club filed a protest against the logging proposals in December 2015. The BLM is currently reviewing that protest and may make a decision to award, modify, or cancel the sale within the coming days. If they decide to approve the logging, these conservation groups may have to file an administrative appeal.

Take action today to help!

We can all share our voices with the BLM by signing these petitions by the Sierra Club and Cascadia Wildlands. For more information about the Hardesty Wildlands, or to volunteer, you can contact the Sierra Club Many Rivers Group.

The mountaintops and forests of Hardesty, like all public lands, belong to everyone and to no one. This is one of the few wild places left to us – one that, as we venture into it, makes us content with an instinctual, inexplicable nostalgia. This is one of the few places left where, even as we enter the forest for the first time, we feel that we’ve returned to some long-lost place, a place we’ve been before, and, as we stand still and listen to the warbles of songbirds, and as we hear the crunch of needles beneath our boots, we somehow have the sense that, among the old trees, we have rediscovered something, some part of ourselves that’s been missing, and at long last we feel whole; at long last we have come home.


A Reinvigorated Battle Cry for the Climate by Jessie Bond

August 13, 2015

For years, conversations around global warming have been volleying back and forth between dire predictions and outright denial. Most of the discussion has centered on scientific data and the economic impact of dealing with climate change. But the plea to protect our planet from the worst effects of rising temperatures has not fully resonated because most people have been overlooking an important human motivator: our own morality.

Until now. In May, Pope Francis took a stand and brought the climate change conversation to a new global level. In a 184-page encyclical, the Pope delivered a powerful critique on modern life. He addressed not only the fact that humans have contributed to the degradation of our planet but that we have a moral responsibility to our own and other species. He called for a sweeping “cultural revolution,” and among the many pages offered some guidance for every government, community, and individual. This call to action sparked a renewed energy to confront climate change and the enormous ecological, economic, and social imbalances that are root causes of the crisis.

Many cities across the globe are heeding this call and beginning to roll out plans to combat climate change at the local level. In fact, in the wake of the Pope’s statement, the Portland City Council and Multnomah County Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the joint 2015 Climate Action Plan. This continues a 20-year legacy: Portland was the first city in the United States to create a plan for cutting carbon in 1993. Total carbon emissions in the U.S. have risen since the 1990s, but Portland’s emissions have actually declined by 14%, while its population has increased by almost a third.

The updated joint city-county plan is intended to strengthen the local effort to reduce carbon emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. This is the level experts feel is needed worldwide to prevent devastating climate disruption from global warming.

Issues of equity and justice, which have largely been missing from the global climate conversation as Pope Francis points out, are finally getting serious consideration. The city-county plan, which was developed with the help of an equity working group, reflects this. Along with minimizing fossil fuel use, the plan focuses on ensuring that all city and county residents benefit from climate action.

At the Sierra Club we know that ensuring a livable climate for everyone is the biggest challenge of our age. The Oregon Chapter is working to educate the public, mobilize communities, and support the growing and thriving climate movement, and there are many ways you can get involved:

  • Find out what the joint city-county action plan means for Portland and Multnomah County at our Third Thursday event: Our Climate, Our Future: the Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan at 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club office.
  • Hear what local faith leaders have to say about the moral implications of the climate crisis and how to build powerful coalitions at our Third Thursday event: Acting on Faith: The Moral Imperative of the Climate Crisis at 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club office.
  • Support our Protect State Forests campaign. We are fighting to preserve the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests, which, as part of the Pacific Northwest temperate forest range, store much of the carbon on the planet.
  • Find out about our new You CAN Corvallis training for youth climate activists to push the Corvallis City Council to pass a climate action plan with significant greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Leaders like Pope Francis remind us that we can better build resilient communities only when everyone is included. It’s the shared human responsibility as Carl Sagan wrote, “to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot.” Taking a moral stand in being good and decent to others and to our world is what is going to help us and other species survive.


Protect Critical Old Growth in the Clatsop State Forest

May 10, 2015
Measuring old trees in the Homesteader sale - photo by Trygve Steen

Measuring old trees in the Homesteader sale – photo by Trygve Steen

The “Homesteader” timber sale in the Clatsop state forest calls for the clearcutting of some of the best old growth forest habitat remaining on Oregon’s north coast. The sale features trees over 130 years old and over 200 feet high–relative monsters in a region that has been logged and burned over.

Click here to ask the Department of Forestry to cancel or amend this sale and conserve this amazing parcel!

Click here to read the full Homesteader Report