Senators try to repeal LNG siting rules, giving power back to states
Wyden, Clinton, Dodd and Lieberman say that 2005 federal law went too far in giving feds control over terminal development
Four U.S. senators introduced legislation Monday that would repeal portions of the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 that took away states' regulatory role in siting liquefied natural gas terminals.
The legislation was introduced in Washington, D.C., by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Connecticut senators Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd as co-sponsors.
Wyden, Clinton and Dodd are Democrats. Lieberman is an Independent.
Wyden has been outspoken about the need for states to play a larger role in the siting of LNG facilities. In Oregon, three LNG terminals are in the works as well as two pipeline projects that would snake through Washington County near Forest Grove and Gaston.
'The end result of the Bush-Cheney energy bill is a federal process, dominated by corporate energy interests, in which Oregonians have no due process and no assurance that their concerns will be heard, much less addressed,' Wyden said.
If the legislation is adopted, states like Oregon would be able to set more conditions on proposed LNG terminals and be able to evaluate local need.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has been asking for legislation like this to be introduced since he came out with a letter criticizing the federal siting process in February.
The new legislation comes just days after Clinton slammed the federal process at a campaign stop for her presidential bid at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. Her criticism was just as strong Monday morning.
'The 2005 energy bill trampled on states' rights when it comes to LNG terminal siting decisions, and it's time for Congress to set things right,' Clinton said about the repeal effort.
For Clinton, Lieberman and Dodd, the federal rules around the construction of LNG facilities has become a flashpoint in their home states because of the controversy over an LNG terminal in the Long Island Sound.
Dodd said that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's recent approval of the facility underlined for him the importance of reigning in the federal government's role.
'Events in my home state have clearly demonstrated that giving FERC the authority to review and approve new locations for LNG facilities was ill-advised,' Dodd said.
No grandfather clause
According to Tom Towslee, a Wyden spokesman, the legislation doesn't include a "grandfather clause," meaning that any facilities that don't have a permit would have to shift to the new process if the legislation passes.
None of the Oregon LNG proposals have received permits from FERC, though one, Bradwood Landing, is ahead of others in the federal process.
While the legislation's passage could create headaches for LNG developers, Towslee was careful to point out that the legislation should be read as a condemnation of FERC's public involvement process, not LNG.
Even so, the prospect of putting Oregon LNG terminals through a more rigorous state process is exactly what anti-LNG activists have argued for in recent months.
Brent Foster, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper has been organizing opposition to LNG developments in Oregon. On Monday, Foster said the bill was a vital step.
"We strongly support the bill and urge its quick passage. FERC has abused its authority, and it's crucially important to get control back to the states," Foster said.
Passage might be easier said than done.
In 2005, an amendment to the Energy Policy Act requiring that Governors get the final say-so in LNG terminal siting was voted down 52-45.
Wyden, Clinton, Lieberman and Dodd all supported the amendment. Clinton's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama also supported the amendment, as did Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican.
But Towslee said that the makeup of the Senate had shifted considerably since, giving repeal a better shot now.
"We have the added advantage of seeing what FERC has done with this authority," Towslee said.
"Every state has its own culture of public involvement," Towslee said, "but I could hazard a guess that no state has a culture of public involvement that matches what FERC does, which is none."
Towslee said that the legislation had been in the works well before Clinton's Saturday speech in Hillsboro and that all the Senators who signed on to the legislation have been following the issue for a long time.
Whether the legislation could manage to get a vote in a session embroiled in presidential politics, however, is anyone's guess.
"I think that everybody recognizes that this is a difficult session to get things done in but lets keep our fingers crossed that everyone sees this is a problem," Towslee said.
Late last week, FERC rebuffed Oregon Democrats in the U.S. House who asked the agency to resolve Kulongoski's complaints and address the state's frustration over the siting process.
The agency said that federal law requires market forces, not local concerns, to dictate siting decisions.