High-profile Democrats turn up heat on natural gas terminals

Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and attorney general hopeful John Kroger say Oregon should fight plan to pipe fossil fuels through western Washington County

In a matter of days, the heat has turned up considerably in the debate over proposed liquid natural gas terminals in Oregon, with a handful of state politicians digging into the issue.

Last Thursday, democratic Attorney General hopeful John Kroger announced his opposition to the terminals, which would turn imported hyper-cooled fuel into natural gas, pumped through pipelines into Oregon's pipeline network.

'This is a time when we're trying to reduce our dependence on foreign fossil fuels. Importing a lot of natural gas from overseas just doesn't make sense,' he said.

Three companies are working with federal regulators to build terminals near Astoria and Coos Bay. The pipelines from two of the projects are slated to run through Washington County near Gales Creek and Gaston.

The terminals have drawn loud crowds at rallies and sparked citizen groups in Forest Grove, Yamhill and Astoria, but so far hasn't become a major talking point in Oregon politics.

Kroger, who's campaigning for the democratic nomination in the attorney general race against state Rep. Greg Macpherson of Lake Oswego, said that for him, the issue isn't about politics. 'It's just common sense,' he said.

Last Wednesday in Forest Grove, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury announced that he opposes the proposals as well. Speaking at Pacific University at a national global warming event, Bradbury said that building up 'LNG' infrastructure was 180 degrees from where Oregon should go for future energy needs.

Paul Sansone, who owns a tree farm near Gales Creek, asked Bradbury when he'd speak out against the projects. Bradbury said he'd join protesters at a Feb. 6 rally at the Oregon capitol.

'I'll be there,' Bradbury told the crowd of about 100. 'I'm with you on this one.'

Bradbury's opposition was great news for Sansone, who's been frustrated by Gov. Ted Kulongoski's support of natural gas as a 'bridge' between fossil fuels and renewable energy.

Sansone and other opponents have been urging politicians to publicly voice their opposition.

'That's the first state official who's actually come out and said it,' Sansone said.

Kroger said that he's been telling activists that he opposed the projects in conversations and is happy to see the topic get a little more traction.

Kroger thinks that even though the federal government took control of the siting process for LNG terminals with the 2005 Federal Energy Act, the state still has a role to play.

'These facilities are going to require state permits and that permitting process, which we control, gives us real power to control our own destiny as a state,' Kroger said.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson and state Rep. Deborah Boone have complained about the federal process, but as state legislators, their power is limited.

City officials in the pipeline path may have more influence. In Forest Grove, the city council will take up the issue on Feb. 11 at its regular council session.

Mayor Richard Kidd said the council could vote to oppose the project, support the project or stay neutral.

Councilors are concerned about the impact terminals could have on the region's economy and the impact the pipelines could have on the city's watershed, Kidd said. And local fire officials are looking at the safety implications.

Sansone gave credit to Sen. Ron Wyden for setting up a meeting between terminal opponents and a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, which determines how energy projects are built.

Sansone said that during the Monday meeting, committee member Jon Wellinghoff offered an apology to land owners for lapses in the federal process.

'Basically what Wyden's staff wanted to do is to show that it wasn't your typical (not-in-my-backyard) thing that happens with pipelines,' Sansone said.

Brent Foster, executive director of Columbia Riverkeepers, hoped that the two high-profile announcements could build up steam in his group's efforts to upend the terminals.

'It's really going to turn up the heat,' Foster said. 'You're going to see a number of other officials coming out in the near future.'