Democratic members of Oregon's congressional delegation say federal regulators have dismissed their concerns about liquefied natural gas facilities.
Reps. David Wu, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Darlene Hooley sent a letter last month to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requesting improved licensing procedure for the facilities.
But in their reply this week, regulators again said they intend to let the market decide whether any of the pending LNG projects move forward.
In February, Gov. Ted Kulongoski sent a letter asking the FERC to stop its review of all LNG projects in Oregon and conduct a separate analysis of the regional need for natural gas and alternatives for meeting that need.
There are three competing liquefied natural gas terminals proposed in Oregon. Two are on the Columbia River, at Bradwood Landing 20 miles east of Astoria and in Warrenton on the Skipanon Peninsula, and the third is in Coos Bay.
The terminals would accept and store imports of supercooled natural gas from abroad, reheat the liquid into a gas, and ship the gas to West Coast markets through pipelines.
Only one of the three can be supported by natural gas users in the Western states, according to the Oregon Department of Energy. Two natural gas pipelines proposed to deliver domestic gas from the Rockies to the West Coast might offset the need for LNG altogether.
Supporters say LNG imports are needed to diversify Oregon's energy sources as supplies tighten. Opponents have environmental concerns and would rather see the region invest in alternative energy. They also warn against reliance on foreign fossil fuels and would prefer to use domestic gas.
But under federal rules, the three LNG projects and three separate natural gas pipeline projects could all be approved, setting up what critics call a horse race to get permitted, secure contracts and start construction.
Kulongoski thinks FERC's market-based approach to approving the projects is unacceptable and puts unnecessary strain on the local and state government agencies required to review the proposals.
Wu, whose district includes the Lower Columbia River, has lamented the weakened position of local and state governments under the rules established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and has vowed to work on legislation that would restore state authority.
"While the law requires FERC to consult with state and local governments, those entities have no role in the final decision, and FERC is not required to consider their concerns," Wu wrote to Kulongoski last month. "I believe this is wrong."
The Bradwood Landing proposal is the farthest along in the federal approval process. Project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. expects to have all of its permits in-hand by the end of the year. The company recently received its Land Use Compatibility Statement from Clatsop County, a key local piece of the federal approval process.
Despite protests from Oregon officials, federal regulators are moving forward with the project's final Environmental Impact Statement, which will be the basis for a licensing decision by a five-member board of presidential appointees on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Before construction can begin at Bradwood Landing, the company will still need air and water quality permits from the state of Oregon.