It is possible to feel both reassured and alarmed by the U.S. Coast Guard's approvals, with conditions, of two liquefied natural gas terminals on the Lower Columbia River.
Reassurance comes in the form of secure knowledge that one of the federal government's most reliably competent agencies can certainly be trusted to safeguard the public safety to its utmost ability. We have no reason to doubt that the Coast Guard would operate with its usual smooth efficiency in making sure LNG ships and terminals comply with the rules and avoid endangering anyone.
Partly thanks to serious regulatory oversight, there haven't been any worse-case scenarios involving LNG terminals around the world. The Japanese, who take a backseat to no one when it comes to health and safety, rely heavily on LNG. This also is a mature technological system in our nation. Based on its experience with LNG on the crowded East Coast, the Coast Guard knows it has the ability to fit all the pieces together and make them work.
All this doesn't hold any water for LNG opponents here, who correctly note that nuclear reactors also were commonly regarded as a safe, well-regulated, mature technology in the years before Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl. The fact that the worst hasn't occurred in the past does not mean that it will not in the future.
When it comes to real cataclysms like successful terror attacks on LNG terminals and ships, there are no 100 percent guarantees. Whether niggling doubts about such factors warrant vetoing LNG developments ultimately is a state and national political question.
LNG development in Oregon is relevant to us here in Washington in a variety of ways - affecting sports and commercial fishing boats here at the mouth. The Bradwood Landing facility would be uncomfortably close to Skamokawa and Cathlamet. A new gas pipeline would cross the river into Washington.
It is in some ways more meaningful to focus on the legitimate alarm that attaches to what real-life impacts the Coast Guard's conditions will have on life here. As reported last week in the Daily Astorian, LNG tankers will need to have Coast Guard escort boats and firefighting tugs close by at all times along with a 500-yard moving security zone surrounding them in the shipping channel and a 200-yard security zone around them while they're berthed.
This condition by itself - a sort of moving bubble from which all other activities will be excluded - has painful implications for independent people who have always regarded the river as our own. The peasants must clear out of the way when the king rides through the village. This is inherently distasteful.
It can and has been argued by LNG firms and others that economic activity associated with terminal construction and operations will more than compensate for any sacrificed freedom, flexibility, unobstructed views and natural habitat for humans and wildlife. Maybe so, though the long-term return-on-investment for such community trust is mixed at best.
In the end, Coast Guard approval doesn't address the really fundamental questions about whether this type of activity is appropriate for our river.