On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will take up Columbia Riverkeeper's case against the U.S. Coast Guard's approval of a liquefied natural gas project on Oregon's north coast.
Back in 2009, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a letter of recommendation for the Oregon LNG project in Warrenton, Oregon.
The letter identified many safety requirements that would be needed to make the Columbia River suitable for LNG ship traffic. It's one of numerous approvals project backer Leucadia National Corporation of New York needs to build its natural gas import and export facility. Ultimately, the Coast Guard concluded that the river could accommodate LNG with some safety improvements.
The conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper has been challenging that conclusion since the letter was released in 2009. The group argues that the Coast Guard should have waited for environmental assessments of the project to be completed – as required by the National Environmental Policy Act –- before issuing a letter of recommendation.
"The Coast Guard gave green light to Oregon LNG before looking at the environmental and public safety impacts," said Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel. "Had they waited for the environmental impact statement, there could have been much different recommendations."
After appealing the Coast Guard's letter at several levels within the Coast Guard, the environmental group will get a chance on Monday to take its case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland.
The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to complete an environmental impact statement on projects they approve that significantly affect the human environment. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is overseeing the review for the Oregon LNG project, but it's not complete yet.
VandenHeuvel says that means the Coast Guard cannot have considered all the impacts of LNG ships on the Columbia before it issued its safety recommendations.
The Oregon LNG project would be capable of receiving natural gas via pipeline, liquefying that gas by cooling it to -260 Fahrenheit, storing it in tanks and exporting it overseas. It was originally proposed to be an LNG import facility in 2004, and it would be capable of importing LNG from overseas. But the company applied for permits to add an export component to the project in 2012.
In addition to federal approval from FERC, the company also still needs local approval for its proposed 86-mile pipeline that would run from Woodland, Washington, to Warrenton. Clatsop County denied land-use permits needed to build the pipeline, and the company is challenging that denial at the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.