Oregon Attorney General John Kroger said he believes the state can stop liquefied natural gas developments such as the Bradwood Landing and Oregon LNG facilities on the Columbia River, but only if they fail to comply with state and federal law.
In an interview with The Daily Astorian Wednesday, Kroger said LNG is just one of many issues on his agenda as he begins his term this year. His top priorities are taking down drug traffickers, illegal polluters and consumer scammers, and he'll be asking the state Legislature this session for support on those fronts.
Kroger is hailed by liquefied natural gas opponents on the North Coast for his stance on imported LNG, which he says is the wrong energy source for the country and the state. He said he would rather Oregon use domestic natural gas than buying it in from foreign countries such as Russia and Iran.
"For the last 40 years our country has been entirely reliant on imported fossil fuels from other countries, and that has had a very bad impact on our economy and our foreign policy," he said. "The question I think we have throughout the country - not just Oregon but everyone - is whether we want to continue to rely on imported fossil fuels or whether we want to have an independent economy fueled by our own energy sources."
Oregon has filed an appeal of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's September approval of the Bradwood Landing LNG facility, proposed for a site 20 miles east of Astoria on the Columbia River.
Kroger said the appeal process will take awhile, but the state is hoping the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will overturn the project approval and require FERC to wait for all state permits and environmental reviews to be complete before voting again on a federal LNG license.
"We believe the federal government has violated the law by granting a permit for a facility to proceed without going through the state permitting process, which is essential if this project is going to proceed, and by ignoring environmental protections that are critical and should be part of that process," he said. "The troubling thing about the way this process was done was that rather than waiting to see the state permits granted, FERC just acted."
As the LNG appeal process gets under way, Kroger is focusing effort on prosecuting predatory mortgage lenders and tackling the state's methamphetamine problem.
"We've had a huge mortgage crisis in the country that has not only put thousands of families at risk of foreclosure but it's also caused a major recession throughout the country," Kroger said. "We are going to be very aggressive in going after the people responsible for that."
The Oregon Department of Justice recently reached a settlement with the national mortgage company Countrywide Financial in which the company agreed to set $1 million aside to help compensate victims of predatory loans and renegotiate the loans for 4,600 Oregon families.
Kroger urged North Coast residents with mortgages from Countrywide to contact the Department of Justice to find out if they're eligible for assistance.
To reduce Oregon's methamphetamine problem and the child abuse it causes, Kroger is proposing tougher enforcement and more accountable treatment and prevention programs.
"We're going to work closely with the district attorneys and go after major meth trafficking organizations that are bringing in 90 percent of our meth into the state from Mexico. That's a tough battle, but one that we have to take on."
The state needs to spend more money on meth treatment and prevention, he said, but it also needs to make sure to collect data on the results of those programs.
"We need to put in some controls to make sure we're spending money on things that will have a real impact," he said.
Kroger is asking the state Legislature to look at several issues this session.
His office is proposing bills that would create an environmental crimes unit at the Oregon Department of Justice and grant his department the authority to target debt collectors who use illegal tactics.
Oregon has laws governing polluters and debt collectors, Kroger said, but the state lacks the ability to enforce those laws.
"The Oregon Legislature made polluting a crime back in the 1990s, but in the entire state we don't have a single environmental crime prosecutor," Kroger said. "So we've got the laws on the books, but we've got no one whose job it is to enforce those laws. As a result, those laws are rarely enforced. ... We're going to make sure when people violate the law there's some real consequences."