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Celebrate victory over Pembina

Celebrating our victories is one of the best ways for social change activists to stay in it for the long haul. And this week we have a major victory to celebrate — the refusal of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to grant a Clean Water Act permit for a natural gas pipeline and export facility in Southern Oregon.

That decision followed by less than a month the Oregon Department of State Lands’ (DSL) requirement that Pembina, the corporation proposing the project, adequately address 18 summarized concerns with 40 delineated bullet points before it will grant a fill permit to move large quantities of soil beneath waterways in the path of the pipeline.

Granted, it’s possible that Pembina can respond satisfactorily to the myriad objections both agencies cited and, regarding the DEQ, successfully reapply. Granted, global warming is a problem so large and multifaceted that preventing methane emissions from the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline and the Jordan Cove liquefaction plant isn’t going to solve it. Granted, almost simultaneously with these decisions, a similar pipeline and LNG facility downriver from New Orleans were approved. Almost all our victories are tentative and partial. Nonetheless, they are victories, and they are significant.

The most significant aspect of such victories is their confirmation of grassroots power. The struggle against this project in its various reiterations has been waged for more than a decade by residents of Southern Oregon with precious little help from the rest of Oregon despite a statewide posture of environmental championship. After prolonged hesitation and pressure, Sen. Merkley stood with us. Sen. Wyden never did. Neither did Gov. Brown, though I’d like to believe that she worked behind the scenes to encourage the agencies’ decisions. As for the state legislature, Rep. Pam Marsh told me that the prevailing attitude there was to give Sen. Arnie Roblan, whose district includes the site of the proposed LNG plant, a free pass on this one issue.

Thousands of us signed petitions, rallied, contacted officials, attended agency hearings. The Mail Tribune reported that the DEQ received 42,000 public comments and the DSL more than 50,000. Hundreds of us sent Gov. Brown pledges to commit civil disobedience at the construction sites if the project got a green light. But special credit must go to Rogue Riverkeepers and Rogue Climate for their tenacious and skillful mobilization of grassroots energy. Appropriately, young people lead these organizations and we older people have followed their direction.

I heard it said that opponents of the project are obligated to find an alternative economic stimulus for Coos Bay. I applauded the expression of concern but didn’t share the moral imperative. Imagine that a high-level nuclear waste repository was proposed for Coos County, whose unstable geology and exposure to earthquakes make it even less suited for such a facility than for an LNG plant. Would we be bound to accept that proposal if we couldn’t find an alternative job creator? I’ve seen my native state of Louisiana allow itself to be physically ravaged by the energy companies, including an alarming disappearance of the most fecund coastal wetlands in the U.S., because the companies provided jobs and tax revenues. We sold our birthright for a bowl of porridge.

No, the imperative of economic regeneration, like the threat of global warming, mustn’t be viewed only in a local context. We pause now to savor this stunning victory, but we must go on to espouse a Green New Deal.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.

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