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FERC fails our planet

The Jordan Cove Terminal / Pacific Connector Pipeline projects are troubling because of their negative impacts on regional water, wildlife, and property rights. However, the elephant in the room is certainly greenhouse gas pollution, global warming, climate chaos, and the failure of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to fulfill its responsibility towards assessing these global impacts.

In its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), FERC states: “The Commission will consider the need and public benefit of this Project when making its decision….” FERC also acknowledges that it should assess the potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the project on the natural and human environment.

Reference to “cumulative impacts” is important since these include not only the impacts of this proposal, but also this proposal added to past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions related to these proposals. FERC thus agrees to evaluate upstream (gas extraction) as well as downstream (shipment and combustion) actions.

Strangely, however, FERC denies their responsibility to consider “cumulative impacts” by claiming that life cycle cumulative environmental impacts are: “far beyond its jurisdictional authority….” Despite this, they also claim authority to analyze: “impacts resulting from non-jurisdictional connected actions…”

Curiously FERC does consider — but immediately dismisses — the impact of the project on fossil fuel extraction by claiming that increased natural gas extraction is not a “reasonably foreseeable” consequence of the Project. This claim is indefensible since the Department of Energy (Order 3413 granting export authority to Jordan Cove) reported: “According to Jordan Cove, this … [project] … will support increased production of natural gas from shale formations ...”

Paradoxically, the DEIS also states: “existing transmission pipelines in the western states are underutilized …” If this is correct, and no new extraction is planned, then there is evidently no need for the pipeline project. The only justification for these projects is if new gas extraction will exceed current pipeline capacity.

Contrary to the claims of the natural gas companies, gas is neither "the clean fossil fuel" nor "a bridge to the future." Because methane (natural gas) is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, not much has to escape to cause serious warming. Regrettably, from extraction and transmission, to final end use, much methane leaks. Because of these "fugitive emissions," natural gas is worse than coal or oil in driving global warming.

The bottom line is that FERC did not complete the cumulative impact assessment that the DEIS stated it should.

One might reasonably ask: “So what?”

Climate science tells us, with as high confidence as science ever tells us anything, that our planet is warming rapidly, and that human-induced pollution, from a variety of our behaviors, is driving this problem. The leading contributor to this pollution is our combustion of fossil fuels.

Our planet has already warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius since the 1880s while pollution released to date locks us into a further 0.8 degrees C increase — totaling 1.6 degrees C. Entities as disparate as the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, and insurance companies agree that global warming over 2 degrees C would be catastrophic and must be avoided. International agreements likewise target this 2 degrees C limit.

The math, unfortunately, is undeniable: we are already four-fifths of the way to this 2 degree limit.

Furthermore, fossil fuel corporations have extensive known fossil fuel reserves. The combustion of this would cause more than a 6 degree rise — a rise that would likely render the planet unlivable. If we care about future generations, our children and grandchildren, we must leave the majority of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

The greenhouse gas pollution from projects such as these cause climate chaos and impose costs that we all bear, costs that have been computed. Though probably underestimates of the real cost, if these estimates were employed, the social cost of these projects and associated cumulative actions would be greater than the small regional economic benefit touted for them.

At our current accelerating rate of greenhouse gas pollution, by the time my one year old grandson is 18, we will have exhausted our 2 degree allowance for greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels. We must end this insane dash for global devastation.

Representatives and departments from city to federal levels should be leading, as the White House Council on Environmental Quality has directed, in reducing not increasing greenhouse gas pollution. Oregon state goals, authorized legislatively in 2007, demand a substantial reduction in our pollution. These projects would negate state goals.

Through its DEIS omissions, FERC failed the planet. These projects do not serve the public benefit.

Journet is an Applegate Valley resident and co-founder/co-facilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now.