The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission not to schedule a public meeting in Jackson County and to require commenters to appear one by one with a court reporter is a transparent attempt to avoid confronting opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline and coastal export facility.
What's more, the request by Jordan Cove LNG, the company behind the project, to meet privately with Jackson County commissioners at a remote location is not only an insult to local residents but would be illegal under Oregon's public meeting law. The Board of Commissioners deserves credit for refusing the request and insisting that any meeting take place in Jackson County and be open to the public.
Jordan Cove is proposing a 232-mile, 3-foot-diameter Pacific Connector pipeline from Malin to Coos Bay, crossing Southern Oregon along the way. Natural gas from drilling operations in Wyoming and elsewhere would be compressed into liquid form at a plant north of Coos Bay, loaded onto ships and exported to markets in Asia.
FERC, the federal agency charged with approving pipeline projects, rejected the Jordan Cove application last year, ruling that there was insufficient evidence that the project was needed and any public benefit was outweighed by negative effects on landowners along the pipeline route. The company has reapplied and is trying again to win approval.
Opposition has been vigorous in Southern Oregon, with property owners along the pipeline route declaring they will refuse to sell easements to the company. Jordan Cove officials say they want to win over landowners so they won't have to resort to eminent domain to force the property owners to allow the pipeline to proceed.
Asking for a private meeting with county commissioners that would exclude the public doesn't seem very persuasive. It's also illegal: Under Oregon law, a meeting with two of the three commissioners constitutes a quorum and must be open to the public.
FERC's announcement that commenters will be required to appear before the commission one at a time, in the presence of a court reporter, seems designed to intimidate opponents. Certainly, loud and disruptive protests are inappropriate in a public meeting designed to gather public comments, and time restrictions and other limitations are reasonable under the circumstances. But the one-at-a-time format deprives the public of the opportunity to hear what others have to say.
As for FERC's decision not to hold a meeting in Jackson County, the commission's Division of Media Relations says FERC is already familiar with the region affected by the project and with landowners' concerns because of comments collected during previous efforts to win approval. But FERC has scheduled public meetings in Klamath, Douglas and Coos counties, where it also held previous meetings. Perhaps the commissioners don't remember what people in those counties thought of the project.
Or, more likely, they want to avoid confronting the strong opposition they know they will encounter in Jackson County. They won't succeed. Opponents are already organizing carpools to the meetings in other counties.
Meanwhile, FERC cannot vote on the Jordan Cove application until it has a quorum of three members. The five-member commission is down to just two members, both Democrats. The term of one of those expires this month. President Donald Trump has nominated two Republicans to vacant seats. They await approval by the full Senate, which is anticipated before the July 4 recess. By tradition, two of the seats should be filled by Democrats and three by members of the president's party. But Trump has yet to nominate anyone for the two remaining seats.
But the two he has appointed, if confirmed, would give the commission a quorum and a 2-1 Republican edge. If he abides by tradition and appoints a Democrat and one more Republican, the commission would still be under GOP control at 3-2. Either way, approval of the pipeline project would seem more likely.
Jackson County commissioners and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, have expressed concern about the lack of a Jackson County meeting and the fact that the comment period is just 30 days, rather than the usual 90 days. FERC should extend the comment period and schedule a meeting in Jackson County, and Jordan Cove LNG should meet with the county commissioners in a public session.