Notwithstanding the constant chant from area shakers and movers that "most" locals support this project -- an assertion that has never been tested by a vote, or even by a publicly-chartered opinion poll -- the vast majority of all this advocacy has come from far outside the geographic area that will be most heavily impacted by this project: the lands and waterways of Coos Bay.
The lion's share of last-minute advocacy has come from the hogs that had been patiently lined up at the trough waiting to get their share of this largest single construction ever proposed for Oregon: trade unions like the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers or Laborers International Union of North America Local 737, and material suppliers like Knife River.
One support letter in particular is a real hoot. It comes from a mining and mineral company, Oregon Resources Corporation, which had staked its future on what it perceived as a global demand for chromite. Being another of those "real jobs" boondoggles that seems to so viscerally appeal to Coos Bay opinion leaders, the scheme of this Australian-owned company was to open a strip mine in opposition to neighboring landowners, then truck 700,000 tons of ore a year to a new $44 million processing plant in Coos Bay. Sound familiar at all? Long story short, this corporate "expert" in global markets laid off 31 employees in 2011, and another 45 just before Christmas in 2012. ORC's website still claims they're pursuing the project, but the last local news report was in 2012.
Like the loggers of old who flocked to the Pacific Northwest to mine our forests of ancient giants only to leave behind miles of stumps and monoculture tree farms, modern-day foreign raiders like Oregon Resources Corporation and Veresen would strip what they can from Coos Bay, then go back home leaving behind giant eyesores brimming with explosive or toxic materials.
What's better than making a buck ... and doing it entirely in someone else's back yard? Especially when those who own the back yard are such willing marks?!
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Considering that FERC denied Jordan Cove LNG's application based on a narrowly-focused balancing of the rights of the many private landowners along the pipeline who would have seen their land condemned, against the purported public benefit that would be derived from this massive project, there were surprisingly few post-denial comments that actually addressed that issue.
In the past month FERC has heard from a number of bona fide landowners in the pipeline's path who remain adamantly opposed to the pipeline project's seizure of their private property.
On the other hand, one couple -- Shirley and Eng Ming Chen of Reno, Nevada -- claimed to own land "impacted by the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline" and wrote in support of the project. But the Chens failed to note whether or not they've entered into any consensual agreement for the use of their "impacted" property. Which would be the best way to put their money where their mouths are, no? But then, the Chens don't even explain how this project will have an "impact" on them in Reno.
On the supply end of the pipeline, there are a grand total of two letters from small Colorado oil and gas producers who claim they need the Jordan Cove project to be able to reach lucrative Asian consumers. But neither company says they are even in talks with Veresen or its subsidiaries for the kind of binding tolling agreements FERC said in its denial order it needed to see.
There are no comments in the docket about the need for this project from the consumption end. Although Veresen has crowed in the media that they have tentative agreements with the Japanese trading company ITOCHU, and with a consortium named JERA. Together, these two deals could account for half the project's LNG output capacity for the next 20 years ... if finalized.
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Among the more shocking letters filed with FERC are two from women who currently hold public office: Oregon State Representative Catherine "Caddy" McKeown, and Douglas County Commissioner Susan Morgan. Both letters are on official government letterhead, and in the case of Ms. Morgan's letter FERC staff has even logged it as being from the "Douglas County Board of Commissioners."
A closer reading of these two letters, however, reveals that both women are speaking only for themselves. Although that important fact may be completely lost to the busy FERC commissioners sitting in Washington DC, and who must rely on -- cough cough -- an objective and unbiased FERC staff to present the facts of the case to them. More on that below.
While some agencies like the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Department of Energy have served as dutiful lapdogs of the Jordan Cove LNG project, the Oregon Legislature has never voted on, nor taken an official position on the project. Nor has Governor Brown. Thus, "Caddy" seems to be on her own here.
In the case of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, the official policy statement is found in an October 2015 letter to FERC -- signed by Commissioner Morgan herself as well -- that took a stand against land condemnation by a private entity, writing: "We request FERC to include a condition in any approval of the Pacific Connector Pipeline through Douglas County that eminent domain not be used and Pacific Connector be required to negotiate with property owners to reach agreement on route, safety and compensation." The commissioners also cited serious safety concerns about the gas pipeline following last year's devastating fire season.
Nowhere in her recent letter of unqualified support does Ms. Morgan mention her fellow county commissioners, or the official edict she and her fellow commissioners issued just last fall. Likewise, neither does the letter to FERC from "Caddy" McKeown mention that she is not representing the view of her fellow legislators.
So much for Oregon's sunshine laws and public meeting requirements.
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The most shocking letter of all, however, came from within FERC itself. In a letter clearly penned by project environmental project manager Paul Friedman, FERC takes the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to task for daring to suggest that FERC hasn't done everything legally required to protect cultural and historic resources threatened by the Jordan Cove project.
What's even more shocking than the tone and content of Mr. Friedman's letter to the SHPO, however, is its timing. 15 U.S.C. 717r governs the appeal of FERC's denial of the Jordan Cove and Pacific Connector Pipeline permits. This statute clearly states that the FERC commissioners' denial in March 2016 was final and binding ... until and unless overturned on appeal by FERC itself, or by a federal appellate court.
So what? Well, for all practical and legal purposes, the Jordan Cove LNG project is currently dead as a doornail. But in direct contradiction to his employers' decision, Mr. Friedman has decided to keep working the project as though it's still alive and kicking.
Gee, it must be great to be a mere mid-level civil servant who can decide all on his own to keep expending federal taxpayer dollars on a project his bosses have legally killed off. And to do it in a way that so thoroughly shows his contempt for cultural resource concerns, and his extreme bias in support of this project!
All this may be a moot point, however. On 08 April 2016 the applicants filed their appeals in the action. And on the surface, their work looks complete and compelling.
In a nutshell, where they could show no suppliers or customers a month ago, the applicants claim to now have preliminary agreements for 77 percent of the pipeline's input capacity, and 50 percent of the proposed LNG output.
Based on these developments the applicants have requested that FERC should grant a rehearing, then they offer three variations on substantive relief:
- FERC should simply change its mind and grant the applications of JCEP and PCGP outright
- FERC should grant the applications of JCEP and PCGP, subject to a condition that would prevent the initiation of condemnation proceedings until executed precedent agreements are submitted to FERC staff
- FERC should stay its 11 March 2016 Order, and re-open the record for six months to receive additional evidence of customer support
Of course, Veresen probably had to give away the farm to get these preliminary tolling and offtake agreements. Both the sellers and buyers knew full well that Veresen was under the gun. But I'm sure whatever economic hit Veresen took will be absorbed by the shareholders and corporate executives, right?
Veresen, by and through its local toadies, will likely soon be breaking the bad news that all that corporate largess in the form of community enhancement plan -- the terms of which Jordan Cove was already balking at last year -- will have to be cut way back.
Or more likely ... after a charade of negotiation, the community enhancement plan will be abandoned altogether now that Veresen has wrung all it needs out of the local yokels.
Given the destruction this project will likely wreak on local property values, it was probably always Veresen's long game to keep the suckers on the hook with this enhancement plan nonsense, then ultimately take their chances with the Coos County Assessor (the incumbent who, by the way, is in no way involved in any conflict of interest by also serving as an LNG booster Steering Committee member!). There's nothing to lose, and everything to gain for Veresen's shareholders.
At the end of the day, the people running Coos Bay will eventually wake up to realize they've given away any real economic benefit this project might have provided. And when the giant LNG tanks and tankers are finally a fixture on the now-scenic bay, you can be pretty sure that anyone who can get out, will get out.
Once the mass huge out-migration of the educated and monied folken is complete in 5 or 6 years, there will be no more tourists, and no more retirees. Even those like "Caddy's" family who have dominated local politics and wealth for over a hundred years will likely develop a taste for other pastures. Especially when the proles finally show up on tony Telegraph Hill with tar and feathers once they figure out how badly they were fleeced.
And those left behind? They'll see public services and businesses dwindle in ways undreamt of during the last great shakeout following mechanization and offshoring of Oregon's timber industry.
There are, after all, plenty of other pretty Oregon coastal towns that won't feature a gigantic waterfront eyesore, and that won't offer the distinct possibility of being burnt to a crisp by an exploding pipeline, gas tank, or tanker.
You can be pretty sure, however, that those with insider information, and those generally in the know, will make lots of money by shorting Coos Bay ... and by going long on Veresen.
Good luck. To misquote Bette Davis: "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."