Gov. Ted Kulongoski told federal regulators they must study all alternatives to supplying natural gas to the region before moving forward with any proposals for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Oregon.
In a letter sent Thursday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Kulongoski said he has asked the state attorney general to examine Oregon's legal authority to refuse state permits for the projects until FERC complies with his request.
Kulongoski also told Chairman Joseph Kelliher that he had asked Oregon's congressional delegation to push for legislation that would wrest back state control for licensing LNG facilities. State authority was pre-empted by the federal government as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The governor's posture, outlined Thursday in an interview with The Oregonian, marks a change in tone. He recently told a panel of editors that Oregon could benefit from the addition of liquefied natural gas to its energy portfolio, saying it would reduce the state's dependence on other sources of energy, especially coal and hydropower. But he has called for a more detailed analysis of potential environmental impacts, including the effect on fish and wildlife habitat, and water quality.
LNG proposals have stirred controversy in Oregon, with some welcoming the jobs and taxes they would generate and other residents scorning the potential environmental impact and likely use of eminent domain to seize farmland, vineyards and forest for hundreds of miles of pipeline.
Energy companies have proposed building three LNG terminals in the state: one in Coos Bay and two on the Columbia River. The terminals would accept imports of supercooled natural gas from abroad, reheat the liquid into a gas, and ship the gas to West Coast markets through one of four proposed pipelines.
Two other companies have proposed building pipelines to ship domestic natural gas from the Wyoming Rockies to southern Oregon.
Kulongoski said in his letter that he wasn't "unalterably opposed" to LNG being part of Oregon's energy mix. But he said FERC's "approach to the licensing of plants and pipelines has created a crisis of confidence with Oregonians."
Opponents of the projects cheered Kulongoski's moves.
"This is just the type of leadership we want to see the governor take on this issue," said Brent Foster, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "It's encouraging that he's recognizing that these LNG projects deserve a very close look, and it's important that the rush to approve these projects not leave us with a mistake."
The governor's new stance puts Oregon in league with states across the country that have raised objections to FERC's permitting approach and its pre-emption of state licensing authority.
"Ultimately, we may end up in court over this," Kulongoski said in the Thursday interview. "We're not exactly clawless. . . . The state doesn't have all the tools, but we are a critical piece. You're going to have to meet the state concerns."
Governor: Look at LNG alternatives