The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Thursday greenlighted a liquefied natural gas terminal along the Columbia River in Oregon — the first LNG terminal on the West Coast to receive such approval.
The vote was 4-1. Advocates on the commission, including Chairman Joseph Kelliher, said the terminal will help provide needed energy for the region and the country.
But Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said his state will request that federal officials conduct a new hearing on the project to ensure that state and local communities' concerns are addressed. A rehearing is an administrative step that must be taken before parties initiate legal action.
"Today's decision by the federal government lacks accountability to the environment and the people of Oregon," Kulongoski said in a statement. "The commission has decided to ignore the law and instead approve a project with incomplete mitigation plans and without regard to Oregon's important concerns."
The $650 million Bradwood Landing project, 20 miles east of Astoria, Ore., would import superchilled natural gas aboard tankers and warm it so it can be distributed regionally in pipelines.
100 conditions listed
The commission imposed more than 100 conditions that it said would help assure safety and mitigate environmental damage from the plant.
The plant's developer, Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas, must obtain state-level permits before it can start construction.
Still, company officials called the FERC vote a significant milestone that positions the project to help supply natural gas to the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
"We are certainly pleased with the FERC decision," said Joe Desmond, senior vice president with NorthernStar Natural Gas. "It represents 3 1/2 years of work and we are satisfied we can meet the 109 conditions identified by FERC."
Desmond and other officials said the company will work with the states of Oregon and Washington to secure necessary state approvals. The company hopes to begin work in late 2009 and have the terminal operational by 2013.
Activist: 'Rubber stamp' was expected
Brent Foster, executive director for Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental group, said the FERC action was no surprise.
"We expected FERC to rubber stamp the LNG project from day one," Foster said. "At this point Oregon needs to use all the authority it has to stop this project."
Foster said he is confident state officials will move to stop the project because Oregon Treasurer Randall Edwards and Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, two of the three members on the State Land Board, have announced they oppose LNG projects in Oregon.
The State Land Board approves leases for state lands.
The Bradwood Landing terminal and its 38-mile pipeline would create more than 450 jobs during construction and 65 permanent jobs, according to NorthernStar.
The project is one of three proposed LNG terminals in Oregon that have raised the ire of some residents and most of Oregon's congressional delegation.
Supporters say more natural gas is needed to diversify the Northwest's energy sources as supplies tighten. Opponents argue there is no clear need for LNG terminals and pipelines, and that they pose an environmental threat.