There has been a certain turn in the long road of government deliberation over whether a liquefied natural gas terminal will be sited on the Columbia River at Bradwood. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has said it will not approve the plant without more definitive information. The National Marine Fisheries Service has said it must do more testing before giving its approval. And Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have reintroduced legislation that would end the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's sole power to license LNG plants. All of this happened last week.
The Wyden-Merkley legislation targets the absurdity and the inadequacy of the federal process by which LNG terminals are sited. But in the near chaos of this election year, their progress is unlikely. The other gaping hole in the Bradwood LNG proposal is the lower Columbia River as prime habitat for salmon and a host of other creatures. On that score, the actions by Oregon DEQ and the federal NMFS are immediately significant.
Pentagon planners these days talk about asymmetrical warfare. There is a similar phenomenon in the LNG siting process. NorthernStar LLC, Bradwood's promoter and owner, talks about jobs, investment and the supply of natural gas. That is alluring campaign talk. But construction jobs are transitory, and the river lives on. At this late date in the Pacific Northwest's manipulation of the Columbia River, our fisheries and environmental agencies cannot ignore the reality that the river off Bradwood is a highly important corridor for endangered salmon runs in which the nation has invested billions trying to restore.
There has never been a compelling case to establish the need for an LNG terminal at Bradwood. NorthernStar's proposal is all about the profits that come from flipping the terminal, once it is built. The FERC licensing process is all about who gets to federal regulators first with a completed and defensible application. The FERC process is not about establishing the basis of national need and strategic siting for a terminal. That is the role the federal government should play in this process.
All in all, the FERC process thus far shares many similarities with the financial mistakes that blew up into the Great Recession - a careless rush that is all about easy answers and quick profits. What we need, both as a region and a nation, is to slow down and ask the right questions. How many LNG terminals does America need? Where can new terminals and related pipelines be located to do the most good with the least harm to the environment? Who has the best long-term track record for safe, community-friendly operations? Can all adverse impacts to the Columbia and its species be reversed when this terminal has outlived its usefulness?
These inconvenient questions and many others have gotten short shrift. The process assumes that anything good for LNG is good for the USA. It is good to see Oregon's DEQ, federal fisheries scientists and our U.S. senators demanding answers and searching for better ways to arrive at these decisions.