PUGET ISLAND - Residents of Washington's Puget Island, in the middle of the Columbia River near Cathlamet, may not have found much reason for alarm from their neighbors to the south.
As plans for a liquefied gas facility proposed at Bradwood, about 40 miles east of Astoria, move along under federal review, many Washingtonians are paying a little more attention to the Oregon side of the lower Columbia River.
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., on Friday, June 30, called for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish bistate authority in the Bradwood Landing review process, giving Washington agencies permitting rights equal to those in Oregon.
"Any state directly affected by an LNG terminal should have a formal opportunity to assess within their state regulations the potential impacts to their citizens and environment," Baird said in a statement he filed with FERC. "Ideally, a change in administrative policy would allow the state in which the terminal is not constructed to decide whether it wants to join the efforts of the host state concerning ... permitting actions."
The Bradwood terminal is one of five LNG facilities proposed in Oregon and one of four planned on the Columbia River.
Bradwood Landing, developed by the Houston-based company Northern Star Natural Gas, submitted a formal application in June to FERC to build its facility, where specially designed tankers would deliver superchilled natural gas to be converted back to a vapor for distribution in an interstate pipeline.
Project proponents hope the terminal will alleviate the region's needs for gas, and they say it will bring jobs to local communities. However, some community members worry that LNG traffic will disrupt ship commerce, harm fish habitats, decrease recreation and pose safety risks to riverside residents.
While the Natural Gas Act gives the federal commission sole authority over where LNG terminals are built, the state where a terminal is planned can essentially "veto" the facility's construction by denying certain permits, according to the commission.
In other words, Oregon's power over the Bradwood Landing project lies in the Clean Air, Coastal Zone Management and Clean Water Acts, each carrying requirements for permits and certifications of compliance. Without those permits, a project can't move forward, according to FERC.
Baird thinks Washington should have a say, too. He voiced appreciation "that Oregon has reached out to Washington in an effort to incorporate concerns and perspectives in its reviews," but the LNG site proposed at Bradwood sits less than a half-mile from Puget Island on the north side of the river, he said.
"In fact, more Washington residents would live closer to the terminal than would Oregon residents," his filing states. "As a result, Washington residents and wildlife would share many of the water, air and coastal environmental impacts from the proposed project."
It has happened elsewhereIt's not the first time FERC has encountered a clash between states when siting LNG facilities.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving a LNG facility in New Jersey developed by BP and approved by FERC. While the proposed import terminal would be located in New Jersey, much of its delivery pier would extend into the state of Delaware, which denied BP's bid for a coastal zone permit - launching a dispute over whether Delaware should have a say in a project based on the New Jersey shore.
"If you look at that example, it's not uncommon for an LNG facility to be located in one state, but an adjoining state has concerns," said FERC spokesman Brian Lee. "The bottom line is it's a process dictated by the law and regulations."
That means the commission is the lead agency, "but it doesn't mean the states don't have a voice," Lee said. "The commission will take all comments into account in processing an applicant's request. That includes accounting for the concerns of state officials; whether they have a regulatory role in the process or not, they have an opportunity to participate in the process by filing comments."
Michael Grainey, director of the Oregon Department of Energy, said his agency has been in Washington's shoes in the past, and has involved the other state in its reviews so far.
"In our review, we've talked with the state of Washington and Department of Ecology about the concerns they have, and we're certainly sympathetic to those," Grainey said. "We're certainly going to be supportive of a full role for Washington."
His department didn't accept FERC's invitation to act as a "cooperating agency" in the project's review process, which would have eliminated its ability to appeal future rulings. However, he wants the federal commission to use state standards in that process.
"We haven't taken a position for or against this project, but we are going to insist to FERC that they apply Oregon standards," Grainey said. "We think those are the decision criteria they should use."
Oregon files as intervenorThe Department of Energy filed as an intervenor in the federal process last week, giving it the ability to provide input in the case and appeal decisions. Clatsop County, Astoria and Warrenton have also filed as intervenors, as have landowners and other stakeholders in Oregon and Washington.
Rep. Baird has additional concerns to permitting in the Bradwood Landing case. By law, FERC must require a LNG terminal operator to develop an emergency response plan with the U.S. Coast Guard and state and local agencies. However, this plan isn't required until just before construction of the plant - after the terminal has already been licensed, Baird said.
It "leaves emergency planning - one of the most important planning pieces of LNG siting - until one of the very last stages of the process," he said. "Existing federal policy concerning the timing of the emergency response plan seems to provide a disincentive for the applicant to work with the state and local agencies to determine emergency capabilities and mitigation prior to construction."
His filing also suggested a comprehensive regional plan for siting LNG terminals to manage the number being proposed, and possibly approved, in the Pacific Northwest.
"FERC should not be in the business of simply permitting an overabundance of terminals and letting the market decide which will be built," Baird said. "The costs to state and local jurisdictions for participating in a federal LNG application review, as well as the potential environmental and safety impacts of a built terminal and pipeline, are too high to approach LNG siting without a national and regional plan."
The federal commission is expected to release a statement of the proposed project's environmental impact in the next few months, and to issue a final ruling on Bradwood Landing in less than 10 months.