Construction could begin before the new year on a gas pipeline expansion through the Pacific Northwest that state officials say will undermine the region’s renewable transition and further fuel climate emergencies.
The region suffers from annual wildfires, deadly heat domes and drought. Legislators in Washington, Oregon and California have passed some of the nation’s toughest laws to move away from fossil fuels, but they say the federal commission greenlighting the project threatens to undermine that progress.
“Our state, and the entire West Coast, has numerous laws that will limit the appetite for gas in the coming years,” said Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. undersigned a law in 2021 that set limits for the state’s largest emitters. “And they essentially ignored it.”
In October, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc) approved the expansion of GTN Xpress, a pipeline that transports gas from fracking fields in the Western Territory. Canada through Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California. Proponents say the expansion is necessary to meet growing consumer demand.
Ferc’s own draft environmental assessment found the expansion will result in the greenhouse gas equivalent of adding more than 700,000 gasoline-powered vehicles to the road each year.
The expansion would upgrade compressor stations, so that more gas can pass through the existing pipeline. Critics say upgrading compressor stations helps GTN Xpress circumvent some regulations.
“We thought we were on the right track,” said Pam Marsh, an Oregon state representative who sponsored a 2021. law require state utilities to switch to carbon-free electricity generation by 2040. In 2020 have a wildfire destroy 2,500 houses in Marsh’s district. “Climate change is happening, it’s right in front of us, it’s devastating, and we need to do everything we can to mitigate the potential damage that lies ahead,” she said.
In November, the attorneys general of Washington, Oregon and California and environmental groups filed a joint petition calls for Ferc to withdraw its “flawed, illegal order authorizing the GTN Xpress project”, arguing that Ferc failed to critically assess the project’s climate impacts. They also said the plan doesn’t take into account state laws that would reduce demand for gas. Ferc has until December 22 to respond.
“Ferc is a completely captive agency that is not living up to its responsibility under the law,” said Jeff Merkley, an Oregon senator. “In their minds, ‘need’ simply means that the fossil fuel companies want to do it, so they rubber stamp it.”
Ferc is an independent agency, but it collects annual fees from the industries it regulates, including the gas industry. In the last two decadesthe commission approved 423 of the 425 pipeline projects that came before it.
Merkley and three other senators spurred on the commission to reject the proposed expansion, arguing that “if GTN continues business as usual with its pipeline in 2050, it will represent 48 percent of the region’s target greenhouse gas emissions from all sources”. They added, “Simply put, there is no way our states can meet their emissions goals if this project moves forward.”
Opponents have raised concerns about health risks associated with the expansion. Compressor stations give a cocktail of pollutantssuch as benzene, which is linked to a higher risk of some cancers, and carbon monoxide.
Legislators and environmental groups have too criticized environmental safety and human rights record of TC Energy, GTN’s parent company; it was fined for environmental violations on a pipeline in British Columbia, where it was also accused work with the police arrest indigenous protesters. There was an explosion on its Virginia gas pipeline this year and a major oil spill on its Keystone pipeline in 2022.
Indigenous groups, including the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, say the project is contributing to a climate crisis that farm native speciessuch as steelhead trout and salmon, at risk.
“We are definitely concerned about [the expansion],” said Alysia Aguilar Littleleaf, who operates a fly fishing business on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. “That’s why we opposed it from the beginning.”
When reached for comment, TC Energy spokesman Michael Tadeo wrote: “After undergoing more than two years of analysis and consideration by the agency, GTN XPress is one of the most thoroughly reviewed infrastructure projects this year by FERC approved.” He added, “We appreciate FERC’s bipartisan action in approving the project and will work diligently to bring it into service as soon as possible.” Tadeo did not respond to questions about TC Energy’s environmental record.
Opponents of the project also argue that expanding the pipeline also assumes that demand for fossil fuels remains at present-day levels or grows over time. However, proponents argue that consumer demand will decline as the energy transition progresses.
“Those precedent agreements don’t paint a complete picture of demand,” said Audrey Leonard, attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper, which is fighting the project. “Just because you have someone willing to buy the gas doesn’t mean gas is needed.”
A state regulator independently reached the same conclusion. This year, Washington’s regulatory commission mocked the utility Cascade, which has a contract to buy gas from GTN Xpress, for relying on old energy consumption models that don’t take into account new state laws. It calls Cascade’s analysis of GTN Xpress “strikingly inadequate”.
TC Energy and Cascade did not respond to questions about the state commission’s comments.
Asked if the project was necessary, Tadeo wrote in an email that demand for gas on the existing GTN system has grown by more than 26% from 2014 to 2021, while supply is limited, resulting in ” unnecessarily high energy prices and strained reliability for consumers”.
If Ferc denies the petition to stop the project, TC Energy can begin construction, although opponents are likely to appeal through federal courts.
“We intend to enforce our laws,” Inslee said. “If you do this construction, and we enforce it, you’re going to have a stranded asset, you’re going to have a bunch of compressors sitting there and a pipeline that you can’t use, but you made the taxpayers pay for it .”