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Land use laws need an update

So, we find ourselves entering the Jordan Cove battlefield blindfolded with one hand tied behind our back.

Land use laws need an update
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Over the years, acting in various capacities, I have had occasion to interact with many individual employees of the various Oregon state agencies involved in environmental management activities. In the majority of cases, I have come away impressed by the expertise, knowledge and dedication of the individuals involved.

That being said, time and again I have been surprised and disappointed at the failure of the state’s existing environmental data collection and management system to utilize the collective expertise that resides within the various agencies as part of a rational, objective and logical decision process.

The recent hearing held on Feb. 18 by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) regarding the Jordan Cove LNG project provides a case in point.

As everyone knows, the primary decision to approve or disapprove the project in its entirety is the responsibility of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC’s decision, in turn, must be the logical outcome of an objective analysis documenting how technical, economic and environmental considerations were balanced to arrive at the decision, whatever it may be. The specific details as to the content and format of the environmental impact statement (EIS) which provides this documentation are spelled out in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The State of Oregon is firmly on record demanding that FERC fully comply with NEPA in preparing its EIS for the Jordan Cove project, as evidenced by the comprehensive input to FERC by the Oregon Attorney General.

The ODEQ has closely reviewed the Jordan Cove Draft EIS currently out for public comments. ODEQ has specifically identified 104 instances in which FERC has performed inadequate analyses, utilized erroneous data or failed to address specific important elements entirely. In short, ODEQ has documented that FERC has failed to provide Oregon’s state agencies and Oregonians in general with data and analyses to which they are legally entitled under NEPA.

Logic would dictate that our state agencies take no further action at this time regarding the Jordan Cove project until a comprehensive and viable EIS is made available by FERC.

Unfortunately, Oregon’s management system simply does not allow logic to prevail in this type of situation.

We were informed at their public meeting that an air quality permit to be issued by the ODEQ “will likely be the first permit Jordan Cove receives,” even before FERC decides whether or not the Jordan Cove project will become a reality. Thus, we find a state agency expending critical funding and personnel time processing a request for a state permit relating to a specific element, namely air quality, of a project for which critical information is still being gathered so as to legally support a go/no go decision at the federal level.

The decision to prematurely process the air quality permit is not attributable to personnel currently staffing ODEQ. Rather, it is the result of Oregon’s archaic, fragmented and ineffective environmental management system. This is not merely my personal opinion of the current state of affairs; rather, the reality of this situation has previously been identified in an official State of Oregon document.

The “Oregon State of the Environment Report 2000” was issued in September, 2000. Following is a key quotation from the executive summary: “Measuring ecological conditions, trends and risks is fundamentally different from the problems Oregon’s environmental programs were initially established to address. The state’s existing environmental data collection and management system must be improved to effectively measure ecological conditions, trends or risks.”

Unfortunately, nothing has been done to improve our out-dated state machinery. So, we find ourselves entering the Jordan Cove battlefield blindfolded with one hand tied behind our back.

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