By Ted Gleichman
We have complex Jordan Cove news, so I will overstrain this Star Wars metaphor right from the get-go.
View of the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal site on Coos Bay.
Credit: Jes Burns, Oregon Public Broadcasting / EarthFix
We all remember the temporary victories of last year: the valiant Rebel fighters in Southern Oregon brought down the Empire’s local Death Star: the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal plan and the fracked-gas Pacific Connector pipeline necessary to serve it.
Technically, the Rebels persuaded a key Empire directorate, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to go rogue briefly, for the first time ever on LNG, to deny federal permits to the Death Star (twice).
Then Darth Vader was anointed to take over the Empire, in a structural coup that displaced the assumed new Empress (even though she was supported by more of the Empire’s electorate). And FERC – never a true friend to the Resistance – emphasized that the Death Star owner (Veresen Inc., from the key Empire fossil fuels province of Canada) could re-apply for a new Death Star any time. And so they did, saying that Emperor Vader would save them….
Ok, enough Star Wars…. This 13-year battle now has moved into a blend of old and new terrain. We continue to work to build local and state support, while restructuring how to fight through the new FERC process and defeat state permits. Here are the highlights:
- Veresen and Jordan Cove get strong support from the Trump Regime
- Senators Wyden and Merkley try to play both sides with Trump and FERC
- Merkley proposes a Full-Renewables Policy, with a Jordan Cove Loophole
- Veresen agrees to a Sweetheart Merger with Pembina Pipeline Corp.
- The Trump Regime announces new FERC Nominees – Wyden is key
- Jordan Cove defeats a controversial local-control ordinance in Coos County
- Coming next: Outreach to Wyden, Merkley, Governor Brown, and others
Veresen and Jordan Cove get strong support from the Trump Regime
Three days after President Trump’s inauguration, leaders of major construction unions met directly with him and top aides (including Steve Bannon) at the White House to promote Jordan Cove. They received a pledge of support: they were told that Jordan Cove would be the third energy infrastructure project on regime list for approval, immediately after the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline. Veresen CEO Donald Althoff was also incorporated into a major Trump corporate sales pitch and is claiming White House support.
Senior Trump aide Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council and a top advisor to the President on infrastructure plans, spoke recently to a key globalization think-tank, the Institute of International Economics. He stated bluntly, “We’re going to approve an LNG export terminal on the West Coast.”
Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, made it clear that he was speaking specifically about Jordan Cove. He was definitive on Trump’s power to approve it, despite the fact that legally FERC is an independent agency.
Senators Wyden and Merkley try to play both sides with Trump and FERC
In response, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley issued a joint warning to the White House, saying in essence, ‘Don’t mess with FERC, but we still like Jordan Cove.’
This remarkable letter has, for me, a ‘split the baby’ feel, and is a perfect example of the conundrum facing all of us: A huge percentage of the Democratic Party base opposes Trump on every level. Another traditionally-Democratic set of constituencies, portions of Labor and other rural and blue-collar voters, were vital to Trump’s Electoral College victory.
Both senators have been supportive of Jordan Cove – sometimes strongly supportive – through many twists and turns as the facts on the ground have evolved and opposition has grown. But now Jordan Cove is a first-tier Trump agenda item.
And in Oregon, the power of the Building Trades in Democratic Party politics and the desperate need for high-wage jobs in Southern Oregon have been the key factors in preventing formal Democratic elected-official opposition to a pipeline and terminal that are terrible for landowners and communities, the local ecology, and the planet.
Furthermore, FERC has been a truly brutal agency, forcing eminent domain abuses on landowners on pipeline routes across the country before the pipelines have even received other mandatory approvals. FERC denied Jordan Cove twice last year because it is one of the worst and weakest LNG export projects in the United States – not because there is anything admirable about FERC’s management of fossil fuels exploitation as we live in climate crisis.
Merkley proposes a Full-Renewables Economy, with a Jordan Cove Loophole
Simultaneously, Senator Merkley was the lead sponsor and prime mover for a massive new bill that (if eventually approved) would constitute the most ambitious federal reform plan yet for our long-term energy use: the 100 by ’50 Plan: 100% renewables in the U.S. by 2050. The 319-page bill, S. 987, is designed to reform every section of the U.S. energy economy. Although controversial in many ways, it is a serious effort…
….EXCEPT the section prohibiting most new fossil fuels infrastructure, Section 501, would not take effect until 2021, for reasons that are unclear. This apparent loophole moves this crucial component of “Keep It In the Ground” past the time when Jordan Cove now expects to receive federal and state approvals and begin construction.
Many in Southern Oregon fighting to stop Jordan Cove and the pipeline see Senator Merkley’s actions as hypocritical.
Veresen agrees to a Sweetheart Merger with Pembina Pipeline Corp.
At the same time, Veresen agreed to a sweetheart merger with another Canadian fossil fuels company, Pembina Pipeline Corp. The two companies expect Canadian regulatory approval this fall, and the merger would make Pembina one of the largest Canadian fossil fuels companies (although still only medium-sized by U.S. and global standards).
The Pembina CEO praised Jordan Cove as a key opportunity, apparently forgetting the 2015 defeat of their $500 million propane export terminal proposal in Portland.
The Trump Regime announces new FERC Nominees – Wyden is key
FERC has been unable to approve any major new project since early February, when the five-member commission fell to two members and lost the ability to constitute a quorum. Under strong pressure from the fossil fuels industry, the Trump regime announced two new nominees last week: both are reliable supporters of all oil and gas projects.
One of Trump’s nominees is the top energy aide to Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The other has been the top state manager of the fracking boom from the Marcellus shale-gas region in Pennsylvania, where many of the worst fracking abuses have happened.
The new nominees must be approved by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee before the full Senate can move them to re-start FERC. Senator Ron Wyden is a former chair of that committee, and will be one of the most important Senators reviewing theses nominees and the new role of FERC under Trump. Stay tuned!
Jordan Cove defeats a controversial local-control ordinance in Coos County
On May 16, an ordinance initiated by petition by grass-roots activists in Coos County to promote sustainable energy and stop Jordan Cove was defeated 3-1. The proponents of this initiative were outspent by Jordan Cove more than 50-1.
The long-term impact of this valiant effort remains to be seen, although Jordan Cove proponents will claim it as definitive (wrongly, I believe). The measure, a “community rights” proposal developed in conjunction with the controversial Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, is seen by most legal observers to be unconstitutional when applied solely on a local level, and court challenges to date have borne that out.
But the well-meaning fervor of these local activists to make change will, I believe, rebound and restore itself over time.
Coming next: Outreach to Wyden, Merkley, Governor Brown, and others.
So: what is to be done? Watch your email action alerts: we will be presenting you with opportunities to help educate our Senator and Governor Kate Brown on the fallacy of allowing the Jordan Cove Energy Project fracked-gas export terminal and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline to proceed forward.
This project will never be built.
Ted Gleichman is policy advisor for the Oregon Chapter Beyond Gas & Oil Team and a member of the National Strategy Team for Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.