PUGET ISLAND - A hail of criticism from states, tribes and others has been showered on a federal assessment of environment impacts that would result from the proposed construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal on the banks of the Columbia River.
That final environmental impact statement prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff and released June 6 could, however, be the last word. It completes the National Environmental Policy Act process for the so-called Bradwood Landing project. The FERC is the federal agency responsible for authorizing onshore LNG import and interstate natural gas transmission facilities under the Natural Gas Act.
"The commission is at the point now where it can make a decision," said spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said.
FERC had scheduled consideration of the project during its July 17 meeting but it was rescheduled for its September meeting. The commission does not have an August meeting.
FERC can act "notationally" on the proposal at any time, deciding to approve it, reject it, or approve it with modifications, Young-Allen said. It can also decide it doesn't have enough "administrative knowledge" about the project and delay a decision.
The law does not prescribe a public comment period following the issuance of a final EIS.
"But we have always reviewed them, taken them into consideration," when comments are received, Young-Allen said.
Fisheries commentsThe post-EIS comments submitted on Bradwood include one from NOAA's Fisheries Service, which has responsibilities to protect salmon, steelhead, whales and pinnipeds that might be affected by the project. NOAA's comments encapsulates "information needs" still outstanding that will be required to make a judgment on potential effects on those species.
"The estuary is an important place for steelhead and salmon," said Cathy Tortorici, branch chief in NOAA Habitat Conservation Division for the Northwest Region.
"It's a very complex project with a lot of moving parts," she said. "My staff has been working on this project for three years." And the job of fashioning a project and mitigation package that doesn't jeopardize those species is not yet complete.
NOAA is awaiting a revised "biological assessment" from FERC it hopes will fill those information gaps. Likewise NOAA would like to see the final EIS enhanced. That BA is now expected in September.
"The FERC's conclusion that the project would have limited adverse impacts appears unsubstantiated without greater detail and description of the mitigation recommendation, which are needed to fully assess the environmental impacts," according to NOAA's comments on the EIS.
The two documents will be used by NOAA as it prepares a biological opinion that judges whether the project jeopardizes the survival of 13 protected salmon and steelhead stocks that swim past the project, or rear in the vicinity, on their way to the ocean. BiOps are required under the Endangered Species Act.
Tortorici said FERC has the ability to "issue something called a conditional license," but that the project can't move forward until certain requirements, such as a completed BiOp, are satisfied. Those requirements include a Clean Water Act Section 401 certificate and Coastal Zone Management Act concurrence, two needs also specifically noted by the states.
Requests for delayThe EIS produced a flurry of requests that the decision be stalled and/or that the EIS be withdrawn or improved upon.
"FERC's report represents a failure to be accountable to the people of Oregon," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said. "The disregard for Oregon's concerns is unacceptable, particularly on a project with such profound potential impacts on the lives of Oregonians."
In a July 10 letter he asked FERC to withdraw the final EIS and not to make any further decisions until Oregon's concerns are addressed and the state's permitting processes are completed.
A July 25 letter from the state of Washington says the EIS major public and environmental safety concerns have been left unaddressed.
"Ecology is disappointed that FERC's final environmental review for Bradwood Landing failed to adequately address concerns we raised in previous comments on behalf of Washington's citizens and environment," said Jay Manning, director of Washington's Department of Ecology. "We are asking FERC to require Northern Star to obtain and comply with state and local environmental permits as a condition of any approval order or certificate."
Kulongski's letter said "The overall level of detail in the FEIS is inadequate. Much of the FEIS contains only general information about environmental and resource effects. There is little or no linkage between the factual information supporting the FEIS and the conclusions in the document. Nor has FERC staff proposed enforceable conditions to the FERC license to address most state agency concerns."
In his letter, Manning asks that FERC reconsider Washington state's concerns that were submitted during the project's environmental review phase.
"Ecology is disappointed that FERC's final environmental review for Bradwood Landing failed to adequately address concerns we raised in previous comments on behalf of Washington's citizens and environment," said Manning. "We are asking FERC to require Northern Star to obtain and comply with state and local environmental permits as a condition of any approval order or certificate."
The state says:
? The final environmental impact statement lacks detail over the spectrum of life-threatening and health-threatening emergencies that could arise from the project.
? The last pipeline project FERC authorized in the state required the project to follow Washington's regulatory guidelines for in-water projects, which are more protective than FERC's requirements. FERC isn't requiring the Bradwood Landing proposal to use the state's more stringent standards.
? Future shippers won't be required to follow Washington's voluntary standards for tank vessels that help safeguard against spills.
In 2005, Congress passed a law that gave sole authority to FERC for siting, construction, expansion and operation of liquefied natural gas terminals. Gov. Chris Gregoire strongly opposed the change because she said it undermined local and state ability to protect citizens and natural resources. The states want local and state public safety and environmental protection standards included as conditions of certificates FERC issues for the project.
Govs and repsComments from the governors and from lawmakers such as U.S. Reps. Darlene Hooley, David Wu and Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Brian Baird of Washington say constituents have expressed concern about what impacts this project could have on public health and safety, the environment, tourism, recreation and the economy.
"If the project is authorized, we will work closely with our counterparts in Oregon who have the environmental regulatory authority over the terminal construction and operation to keep Washington residents' concerns in the forefront," Manning's letter said.
FERC has made it clear that the federal rules prevail, as evidenced in its May 30 authorization of the 1.8 billion cubic feet per day Rockies Express Pipeline LLC project to construct and operate a new interstate. The 42-inch diameter pipeline will traverse 639 miles from Missouri through Illinois and Indiana and into Ohio.
That authorization said that "Any state or local permits issued with respect to the jurisdictional facilities authorized herein must be consistent with the conditions of this certificate.
"We encourage cooperation between interstate pipelines and local authorities," FERC said. "However, this does not mean that state and local agencies, through application of state or local laws, may prohibit or unreasonably delay the construction or operation of facilities approved by this Commission."
Challenges to FERC rulings "have been upheld when they are in conflict with states," Young-Allen said.
Tribal comments on the final EIS say it ignores their earlier input and that the project has far more risk than benefit.
"... the ecology of this Bradwood site compared to that of other LNG proposed sites leaves no doubt less harmful alternatives are available," according to comments submitted July 24 by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "Bradwood is a unique, valuable and productive salmonid rearing habitat that must be preserved and protected, not destroyed.
"In total, stark contrast, the Bradwood LNG project would be a large-scale industrial development that will have lasting, permanent negative affects on the surrounding fish habitat and related environments," the CRITFC comments said.
NorthernStar Natural Gas is seeking authorization to build the ship terminal on a former industrial site at Bradwood, Ore., 38-miles from the river mouth. A "sendout" pipeline would stretch nearly 19 miles upriver, cross the Columbia and run 17 more miles to Kelso, Wash.
The purpose of the Bradwood Landing Project is to import natural gas to the Pacific Northwest. LNG is natural gas that has been turned into a liquid state by cooling it to about minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce its volume for transport in specially designed carriers some distance across oceans from its point of origin to the proposed LNG import terminal.
The project includes:
? dredging a 58-acre maneuvering area off the federally-maintained Columbia River
navigation channel, and a single berth capable of receiving and unloading LNG carriers with cargo capacities ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 cubic meters;
? installing a set of four 16-inch-diameter LNG unloading arms at the berth, and a 1,240-footlong 32-inch-diameter cryogenic LNG transfer pipeline and 6-inch-diameter LNG
recirculation cool-down pipeline from the berth to the storage tanks;
? installing two 160,000 m3 insulated LNG storage tanks;
? building a vapor handling system and vaporization equipment, including seven submerged combustion vaporizers capable of regasifying the LNG for sendout through a transfer meter station; and
? building ancillary utilities, service buildings, and associated safety and security systems.
"Based on the analysis included in the EIS, the FERC staff concludes that the proposed action would have limited adverse environmental impacts," the FEIS concludes. "However, if the Bradwood Landing Project is constructed and operated in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, and with implementation of NorthernStar's proposed mitigation measures, and the additional mitigation measures recommended by staff, environmental impacts would be substantially reduced."