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Jordan Cove withdrawal not the end

The Canadian company behind the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal and Pacific Connector Pipeline apparently has decided it doesn’t need approval from the state of Oregon if a federal commission grants permission next month for the project to move ahead. We think that’s a mistake.

Pembina, the Calgary, Alberta-based energy company, abruptly withdrew its application to the Oregon Department of State Lands on Thursday, after DSL Director Vicki Walker denied the company’s request for another delay in the agency’s consideration of a removal-fill permit. DSL had already extended its deadline in September at the company’s request.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has jurisdiction over pipelines and other energy projects, is expected to make a final determination on the Jordan Cove project Feb. 13.

Pembina needs the state permit to dredge sediment from Coos Bay and construct the 230-mile pipeline through and under rivers and streams between Malin and the coast, including the Rogue River. The agency had been expected to deny the permit in a ruling expected Jan. 31.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality denied a water quality certification for the project last May, saying the department “does not have a reasonable assurance that the construction and authorization of the project will comply with applicable Oregon water quality standards.” DEQ left open the opportunity for the company to reapply. It still has not done so.

In August, President Donald Trump’s administration issued proposed rules limiting states’ authority to certify gas pipeline projects under the federal Clean Water Act. The administration has vocally supported the Jordan Cove project.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association earlier this month issued a final biological opinion saying the Jordan Cove project did not jeopardize protected species or modify critical habitat. That determination was made under streamlined rules implemented by the Trump administration.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the NOAA opinion would “pave the way for more American jobs and vastly expanded exports of domestically sourced liquefied natural gas to prized Asian markets.”

There is some question how much of the gas that would be exported through the Pacific Connector Pipeline would be domestic and how much would be Canadian. Federal regulators should pin down Pembina on that question, as well as require that the company prove it has signed contracts to purchase the exported gas. FERC denied an earlier version of the Jordan Cove project in 2016 because commissioners were not satisfied the project’s backers had demonstrated a public need that outweighed the pipeline’s impact on landowners.

Exporting Canadian gas would not provide much public benefit to Oregonians.

Pembina may be gambling that FERC will issue final approval next month and the company can then claim it does not need Oregon state permits to proceed with the project. State officials should vigorously oppose any such move in court if necessary. Meanwhile, many landowners along the pipeline route remain opposed to granting easements the company needs, and that could force Pembina to resort to eminent domain proceedings, which would delay the project even further.

The debate over the Jordan Cove project is far from over.