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Round 3 of LNG debate is just beginning

The optimism some business interests felt at the election of Donald Trump to the presidency apparently extended to the developers of the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas terminal in Coos Bay and the accompanying Pacific Connector pipeline. Veresen Inc., the company behind Jordan Cove, is making a third attempt to win federal approval for the project after back-to-back denials. 

How much influence the Trump administration has over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission remains to be seen. But opponents of the pipeline are, if anything, more determined than ever to stop it. And the findings FERC cited as justification for rejecting the project — that any benefits to Oregon failed to outweigh the project's effects on landowners along the pipeline route — don't seem to have changed since December, when FERC denied Veresen's request for a rehearing.

The project remains a proposal by a Canadian company to transport U.S. natural gas through a 232-mile pipeline across Southern Oregon from Malin to Coos Bay, where it will be compressed into liquid form, loaded on ships and exported across the Pacific Ocean to Asia, where it will be sold. The benefits to Oregonians consist primarily of jobs — many of them temporary during construction. Veresen says the LNG plant in Coos Bay eventually will employ 200-300, with 40 permanent jobs along the pipeline route.

The project also remains dependent on the volatile global natural gas market. This project started as a proposal to import gas from Asia to supply the U.S. market, but before it could be approved the market flip-flopped as huge quantities of gas were being produced in this country, so the developers proposed an export facility instead.

But there is no guarantee the export business model will still prove profitable 10 or 20 years in the future, if the price of gas produced elsewhere falls and/or U.S. gas prices increase. The formal filing of Veresen's new application won't come until the end of August, and industry reports on the project indicate actual completion could be as late as 2024.

Backers say they now have major buyers lined up — something they didn't have last year — and they have eliminated plans for a separate 400-megawatt power generating plant in Coos Bay, incorporating it into the LNG plant instead to reduce carbon emissions.

Still, it's hard to see how the benefit to Oregonians has increased enough to outweigh the impacts on landowners along the pipeline route.

Opposition to the project crosses political lines, with conservative Jackson County commissioners on record as opposing the pipeline and private property owners resisting the threat of eminent domain. Liberal environmental activists oppose the project as ill-advised exploitation of fossil fuel for private profit.

Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, along with Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, have steadfastly refused to oppose the project. In a town hall in Medford Saturday, Merkley touted Veresen's pledge to limit carbon dioxide emissions and to avoid using eminent domain to seize private land for the pipeline route.

That will please the Democrats' union supporters, who favor the LNG project because it means jobs, even temporary ones. It won't sit as well with constituents who don't want a gas pipeline crossing their land, or those who see boring under the Rogue River and other waterways as an unacceptable environmental risk.