Seven Oregon state lawmakers have submitted a letter opposing a request to extend the public comment period for the Jordan Cove Energy Project.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed 229-mile natural gas pipeline on March 29. The public comment deadline is July 5. The document is more than 1,100 pages and includes 34 appendices, many of which are hundreds of pages.
On April 11, Oregon U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden submitted a letter to FERC requesting an extension to the public comment period. They cited concerns that landowners don’t have enough time to review the document and submit comments. Many rural landowners don’t have internet access, and the document is only available online or at public libraries.
On April 17, a group of state lawmakers, including Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, and Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, submitted a letter to FERC opposing Wyden and DeFazio’s extension request. They said the 98-day comment period is enough time for adequate review, and an extension would only further delay the project.
Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, and Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, also submitted the letter opposing the extension. A natural gas export terminal for the project has been proposed in Coos Bay.
Wyden and DeFazio’s request was a response to landowners’ complaints that the public comment period is insufficient to fully review environmental impacts of the pipeline.
The pipeline’s proposed path would cross more private landowners’ properties in Douglas County than any other county.
“Given the considerable size of this project, the fact that the project affects landowners in four separate Oregon counties, and the fact that the (document) itself is more than 1,000 pages, we believe a 90-day public comment period is an inadequate amount of time for the public to review and make comments,” read the letter submitted to FERC by DeFazio and Wyden.
They also encouraged FERC to further engage with Native American tribes whose lands will be affected.
“There are several tribes with strong cultural and historical interests in the affected areas, the federal government has a responsibility to engage in meaningful and robust government-to-government consultation,” read the letter.
FERC did not respond to The News-Review’s inquiry regarding a decision on the extension request.
The letter stated many rural landowners lack high-speed internet necessary to download and review the document. FERC hasn’t provided paper copies of the document to affected landowners, who said the option of viewing the document in public libraries still presents a substantial barrier.
In a response letter, state lawmakers opposed the extension and said the current comment period is sufficient.
“While I agree on certain points made in the letter, I have serious concerns about extending the comment period for this Project,” the letter said. “And while I agree that Oregonians need to have genuine public engagement in the FERC’s review of the project, I believe the current 98-day comment period is an adequate amount of time for the public to review and make comments.
“Extending the comment period for the project would only serve to delay, not further inform, the permitting process,” read the letter.
Frank Adams, a landowner in Winston whose property would be crossed by the pipeline, filed a complaint with FERC on April 26, stating there are significant barriers to his review of the document.
“As a veteran who fought for this country, I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. government would allow a foreign company to take my land in order to ship gas to another continent,” Adams said.
“I do not have internet in my home or on my property. As I understand it, Jordan Cove filed a letter on the internet with FERC on April 16, 2019, noting that they had distributed ... hard copies to libraries. This is not a practical solution for giving rural Oregon landowners sufficient access and time to the (documents) to properly review it.
“As a full-time rancher, the library’s hours do not allow me nearly enough time to review the (documents),” Adams said.
He said he didn’t have access to the document on the date of his complaint, and if he obtained access, he would need at least 90 days to review it.
Separately, a group of landowners filed a motion on April 18 to strike the current environmental impact statement, stating it doesn’t provide adequate opportunity for review. The motion also requested FERC send paper copies of the document to affected landowners and extend the public comment period to 180 days. More than 40 landowners signed onto the request.
“Landowners demonstrate that the (draft environmental impact statement) and comment period are constitutionally and statutorily insufficient,” said Tonia Moro, an attorney representing the landowners. “Landowners are extremely confident that correcting the document, ensuring landowners have access to the document and extending the comment period to 180 days will lead to many more meaningful comments which are necessary to minimize the risk of an erroneous decision.”
In a letter to FERC responding to the extension request, Jordan Cove stated the extension should not be granted because the public comment period is longer than those of other similar projects. Oregon state lawmakers made the same argument in their letter opposing the extension.
The landowners’ motion states that while the 98-day public comment period is about 40 days longer than that of other proposed pipeline projects, the Jordan Cove draft environmental impact statement is about five times the size of the other projects.
The final environmental impact statement and FERC’s final decision are scheduled on Oct. 11 and Jan. 9, 2020, respectively.