An affected landowner called to give me the good news. “Did you hear? FERC denied Jordan Cove,” she said. “It’s over.”
Standing on the University of Oregon campus at the time, I was so shocked and excited. I instantly pulled up the just released order on my phone. My joy soon turned to disappointment.
Make no mistake, this is a momentous moment and will have the effect of deterring both the terminal and pipeline for the foreseeable future. But it isn’t over. As one activist put it, this project is "undead."
The FERC denial was made without prejudice, meaning both companies, Veresen and Williams, can reapply. In fact, both have declared their intention to demand a rehearing. That, however, is not what is so disappointing. After all the thousands of hours spent abiding by the regulatory rules and the reams of paper representing thousands of substantive comments and expert testimony about the negative impacts upon waterways and forests and oysters and clams and birds and the very air we breathe, the denial came down to just one thing, the market.
To quote FERC “…we dismiss as moot the environmental concerns raised…”
The damage caused by fracking and methane spewing into the air at both ends of the pipe and the cumulative impacts on climate mean nothing. Without purchase contracts the company simply fails to meet the minimum standard necessary to justify the use of eminent domain. No pipe, no terminal.
Pro-gas boosters cannot even blame the environmental activists for the denial. One even remarked during this week’s county commission meeting that “…at least the project was denied for the right reasons… not the environment.”
As my email inbox filled the stark realization became clear throughout the activist community that the FERC denial order is far from a victory and little more than a respite.
Throwing cold water on planned victory celebrations, one anti-LNG activist noted, “…market factors were the only thing that stopped JC. Nothing has effectively stood in JCs way. Nothing.”
“Yes, the decision to reject was based on lack of proven markets for our North American fracked fossil fuel,” explained another, “not the environmental impact of extracting, transporting and burning vast amounts of methane.”
“Let me concur wholeheartedly,” another agreed. “We need to continue our work in: community rights and cap-and-trade legislation in order to ‘put the fatal stake through the heart’ of any notions of fracked gas, pipeline and all other fast-buck community-bullying fossil business models.”
Conspicuously absent were the customary “we are victorious and please send your tax deductible donation so we can continue our work…” emails that generally accompany an event like this. In fact, the single most effective strategy employed by Jordan Cove opponents was that more than 90 percent of landowners refused or failed to negotiate an easement. If the company comes up with a buyer, (Veresen, in a fit of face saving, claims it will do just that), or worse, partners with a bigger player that already has customers, then nothing short of a tsunami or a countywide bill of rights for a sustainable energy future will stop it.
It is ironic that the very market touted by local Jordan Cove proponents to be the economic savior for Coos County has, for the moment, turned out to be the salvation of landowners, environmentalists and climate activists. As a recent editorial pointed out, the FERC decision also illuminates the importance of developing a sustainable local economy not subject to global conditions beyond local control. Coos County needs to write its own energy future, not FERC or the market.
The best thing to come out of the order is the burgeoning realization among Jordan Cove’s opponents that nothing short of systemic change, in fact taking local control, will stop projects like Jordan Cove. Yes, some, inexplicably, are still determined to keep on participating in and validating the regulatory process, but many see the urgency and opportunity to enact new rules. Suggestions abound, from revamping the fossil-fuel oriented Port of Coos Bay to electing new county commissioners and city councils less indifferent to the environment, to enacting statewide climate protection legislation.
Even more than an outright approval, FERC’s denial of Jordan Cove’s certificate of public convenience and necessity purely on market grounds is a virtual endorsement for the community rights movement because common sense and traditional activism clearly aren’t working. At the other end of the pipe Colorado community rights activists are also pleased that Jordan Cove has been indefinitely delayed. As they vigorously fight hydraulic fracturing used to extract natural gas destined for Jordan Cove, Colorado, like Oregon, has a proposed state constitutional amendment that would affirm local decision making powers and prevent state preemption of local rights based ordinances.
Support the Coos County Right to a Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance.
Mary Geddry blogs at geddry.com and has written and advocated on issues of tax equity and social and economic justice since 2003.