Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
GAS PROJECTS GOING BADLY?
Oregon liquefied natural gas (LNG) opponents are cautiously celebrating further developments in the campaign to prevent the importation of LNG through Oregon ports.
Recent explosions in the Marcellus Shale formation on the East Coast of the U.S., where energy companies have been drilling for natural gas using “fracking,” as well as the success of the documentary Gasland have helped highlight why natural gas may not be the clean “bridge fuel” that energy companies have made it out to be. Fracking, aka hydraulic fracturing, has caused leaks into water sources, some of which have led to tap water that lights on fire. Some of the proposed pipeline routes under Oregon rivers would be drilled using fracking.
One of the proposed pipelines, the Palomar pipeline, a joint project between Northwest Natural Gas and TransCanada, seems to have been put on hold, according to anti-LNG coalition organizer Olivia Schmidt. The western portion of Palomar pipeline would have run from the proposed and now bankrupt Bradwood Landing LNG terminal. The eastern portion would have brought natural gas in from the east into Oregon. Kim Heiting of NW Natural told EW (5/27) that, even without Bradwood, the eastern portion of the pipe was still necessary to provide a second gas pipeline into Oregon. She said the western portion, from Molalla to the Columbia River, was the only part linked directly to LNG. NW Natural and other Palomar proponents have claimed all along that the pipeline was not intrinsically linked to the LNG terminal.
However, since the fall of Bradwood Landing, it appears the entire controversial pipeline may not materialize. Palomar Gas Transmission sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on July 6 that said it “was reviewing its project plan.”
Schmidt said, “We’ve known since the bankruptcy that Palomar was confronting some insurmountable obstacles, like its impacts on endangered species habitats.” She said the LNG opponents noted that the U.S. Forest Service put work on the environmental impact statement on hold a week after Bradwood went bankrupt and that was “a big red flag for us.”
But she said the fight to keep Oregon from moving to another fossil fuel dependency is not over. The pipeline could still happen if investors are found. Some opponents have speculated the western portion of the line could be connected to another proposed LNG terminal, the Oregon LNG project in Warrenton.
Schmidt said that conservation groups BARK and the Sierra Club are asking the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) to evaluate the impact of renewing the lease of state-owned land for the Oregon LNG project. She said the lease was renewed without public comment or notice. The groups said that land is drastically undervalued, as the lease price was determined based on its value as a golf course, not a marine industrial project.
The anti-LNG coalition continues to fight the Warrenton project as well as the proposed Jordan Cover project and its accompanying pipelines in Coos Bay. — Camilla Mortensen
RFK JR. AT MCDONALD
Environmentalists are rock stars too, or at least some of them warrant rock star venues. The McDonald Theatre, which will host Flaming Lips and Vampire Weekend later this year, welcomes treehugger types at 7 pm Thursday, July 22, when environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. comes to speak on “Our Environmental Destiny.”
Kennedy’s name may call up echoes of JFK’s Camelot for some, but for enviros his name is linked with the Riverkeeper organization. He founded the Hudson Riverkeeper organization, which brought more than 400 lawsuits against polluters and led to the cleanup of the river as well as the founding of around 180 other Riverkeeper organizations, including Oregon’s Columbia Riverkeeper and Willamette Riverkeeper groups. He’s also the author of several books on the environment, is senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and was named by Rolling Stone as one of its 2009 “100 Agents of Change.”
LCC’s Northwest Energy Education Institute brings Kennedy to town. Roger Ebbage, director of energy and water programs at NEEI, says the group chose a speaker who will focus not just on energy, but larger environmental issues because, “There’s so much going on right now with residuals from the Bush years; hope for the Obama administration and the current oil in the Gulf crisis.”
Kennedy’s talk will address the issues of energy independence and environmental sustainability, issues key for NEEI programs, which include two-year degrees in energy management, renewable energy and water conservation. Ebbage says the energy program has been around since 1980. Three years ago the program enrolled 30 students, and that has tripled to a current enrollment of 90 as the realization of the need for energy management and efficiency has grown.
Ebbage says, “Hopefully the environmentalists will come out and be even more motivated to keep up their work.” Tickets are $10; doors open at 6 pm. — Camilla Mortensen
WEST 11th NOT SO BAD AFTER ALL
Remember how freeway boosters fervently argued not long ago that taxpayers desperately needed to spend $170 million on a West Eugene Parkway to reduce severe congestion on West 11th? Well, never mind.
Decades of dire predictions of gridlock from ODOT and freeway supporters if the since canceled huge highway through wetlands wasn’t built have proven false.
“The corridor is working pretty well today,” said city transportation planning engineer Chris Henry of West 11th from Chambers to Greenhill. “You have 11 to 12 minutes to drive through the corridor, you stop about 2-3 minutes.”
Henry told the Eugene City Council on July 12 that a study showed the city could spend about $1.6 million to add turn lanes and re-time traffic lights in the corridor, but the improvements would save as little as 10 to 15 seconds in the travel time. “We might not notice it, because it’s performing pretty well as it is,” he said.
But compared to other transportation needs in the city, such relatively costly improvements for such tiny gains might not be a priority, according to Henry. “They might not float to the top,” he said.
The real issue on West 11th may not be road capacity, but decades of poor city planning by city staff who allowed businesses to build multiple driveways every few feet with cars jumping out onto the busy street. “These driveway conflicts may help explain why many people anecdotally complain about traffic in the corridor, while the analysis reveals moderate levels of congestion,” a staff memo states.
But the city doesn’t appear likely to do much about the problem. Henry said the city has the legal power to close unsafe driveways, forcing businesses to share access points, but, “we don’t do that very often.”
Consolidating driveways “is very staff intensive,” Henry complained. “It’s been a difficult situation.”
“I don’t support changing anything,” said Councilor Andrea Ortiz of the city’s driveway regulation. “I don’t want it perceived as anti-business.”
City consultant Scott Mansur of DKS Associates said Salem was able to encourage businesses to voluntarily consolidate their driveways, reducing congestion for customers, increasing parking spaces and dramatically reducing crashes on a commercial arterial. “I was shocked how the businesses rallied with the city.”
Mayor Kitty Piercy said she didn’t want the $150,000 West 11th study to just get talked about without action. “If we want something to happen, what can we do?”
City staff recommended that the council wait to do anything for about a year until after the council decides whether or not to support an extension of LTD’s EmX bus rapid transit system on West 11th. With anticipated driveway consolidations, light retimings and sidewalk improvements, the EmX represents, “the best opportunity to implement many of the corridor improvement strategies in a cost effective manner,” the staff memo stated.
But the public transit improvement on West 11th also appears up in the air with the divided council. “Certainly no build is an option,” said Councilor Mike Clark. — Alan Pittman
OREGON HIT BY TRADE-RELATED JOB LOSSES
A coalition of displaced workers, union leaders, immigrant rights advocates and fair trade proponents held a news conference July 6 outside Woodworkers Hall in Springfield. The subject was a new study detailing Oregon’s job losses, focusing on those jobs lost due to international trade agreements.
“The 9,457 Oregon workers certified as losing their jobs to trade in 2009 was 322 percent higher than the average number of workers certified each year between 1994 and 2009,” according to the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign. The number represents about one quarter of the jobs lost in Oregon in 2009, and the figure may be underreported. A complex process is involved in submitting an application for a work site to be certified under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
A solution that many labor activists, as well as many other social and environmental activists, are pinning their hopes on is the trade reform legislation that is currently in Congress known as The TRADE Act (see News Briefs 7/1).
Samantha Chirillo is the Lane County organizer for the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign and says, “The TRADE Act would help level the playing field for local employers by establishing strong new labor, environmental and consumer safety standards in future and existing trade agreements.”
The TRADE Act, if it passes, has the power to unilaterally standardize labor and environmental laws and would conflict with the power and rules of the World Trade Organization. The power of the WTO over domestic governments is described in Global Showdown by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke. One source of power for the WTO is in its judicial powers. A member nation of the WTO, acting on behalf of its multinational corporations, could challenge The TRADE Act as violating WTO rules. If this were done, a secret tribunal panel would be formed to rule on the issue. If the U.S. lost the case, it would need to change the law to conform to WTO rules, face economic sanctions or pay compensation to the winning country.
According to Clarke and Barlow, “All but one of the dozens of domestic environmental and health laws that have been challenged through the Dispute Settlement Body have been struck down.” The Global Exchange website has several examples of laws that have been struck down, including protections for sea turtles, clean air standards, laws protecting dolphins and an EU law banning hormone-treated beef.
Participants at the news conference offered no concrete ideas for how to deal with the possibility that the WTO could strike down The TRADE Act. Nor were any alternative solutions discussed should the legislation fail. — Philip Shackleton
• Eugene Rising Tide is planning a potluck gathering to make signs and props from 6:30 to 9 pm Thursday, July 15, at the Grower’s Market, 451 Willamette St. The signs will be made for an action called “Overthrow the Oilygarchy! Boycott and Bust BP Bike Brigade” that will gather at 5 pm Tuesday, July 20, at Skinner Butte Park to travel by bike and carpool to the demonstration site. for details. Email email@example.com
• The Emerald Empire HempFest begins at 4:20 pm Friday, July 16, and continues until 10 pm. Saturday hours are noon to 10 pm and Sunday hours are noon to 8 pm. The free, all-ages event will be at Maurie Jacobs Park and will feature guest speakers, music, food, art, vendors and nonprofit booths. Donations will be accepted. More information at http://wkly.ws/o4 or call 517-0957. The park is accessible by the riverfront bike path or from River Road near the Northwest Expressway. A footbridge also leads to the park from Valley River Center.
• The Al-Nakba Awareness Project will sponsor “Update Gaza” at 7 pm Thursday, July 22, in Harris Hall. The free presentation (donations accepted) will feature the nurse/physician team of Gerri and Bob Haynes who led a medical delegation in Gaza this spring. Gerri Haynes, a palliative care consultant specializing in grief and bereavement, is an affiliate clinical faculty member of the UW School of Nursing and past president and board member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. Since 1993, she has organized and led delegations to the Middle East, visiting Palestine at least once a year.
• July 26 is the deadline for public comments to the Eugene City Council on a proposal to name the new I-5 Willamette River Bridge the “Whilamut Passage Bridge.” The council will send its nonbinding recommendation to ODOT. Comments can be sent electronically through the city website or in person at the council meeting at 7:30 pm July 26. For more information, call 682-5010.
• A threatening letter from ODOT’s Region 2 Manager Jane Lee was sent to Lane County commissioners in late June. The county budget for 2011-15 does not include an earlier authorized $1.03 million in matching county funds for ODOT’s proposed $40 million Coburg I-5 interchange project. More environmentally minded members of the commission tell us they think basic transportation improvements west of the freeway would better boost family wage industrial jobs in Coburg and improve safety. Such changes make more sense than building another expensive interchange so close to Eugene. At the July 7 board meeting, Commissioner Bill Dwyer blasted the freeway interchange plan, calling it “a big taxpayer giveaway” that had been “co-opted” by ODOT and “turned into a monster.” Commissioners are also concerned that farmland east of I-5 would be threatened and the interchange could attract a sprawling Woodburn-style factory outlet mall.
ODOT says it’s going ahead with the project and if the county does not contribute, “we may elect to pursue financial and other remedies as outlined in that agreement.” According to the 2008 agreement (http://wkly.ws/o3), “In the event such funds are not available in its account, ODOT shall withhold Agency’s proportional share of Highway Fund distribution in an amount equal to Agency’s contribution under this agreement.”
Let’s see what happens next. Meanwhile, kudos to the commissioners for taking a crack at ODOT’s concrete mindset.
• Go to www.prospect.org for an article called “The Reverse Commute. The Obama administration is trying to rein in suburban sprawl. But is it any match for 70 years of unsustainable development?” in the July/August issue of The American Prospect.
Great piece for Eugene to read, featuring native Eugenean Shelley Poticha, director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. Mike McKeever, another whiz from here, also is quoted. He’s director of the Sacramento Area Regional Council of Governments. Both are fierce advocates for “making suburban sprawl a thing of the past by equipping local governments with the tools to build neighborhoods centered on public transit and walking.” That’s called “transit-oriented development,” and we’re cautiously but steadily working on it here. Not easy. As The American Prospect says, “Somehow, Poticha’s project will have to re-engineer the physical form of the nation in a severely weakened economy.” Should be easier right now when the public eye is focused on the Gulf of Mexico filling with oil.
• The idea of an Oregon State Bank (OSB) has been kicked around for years and was even high on the agenda of governor candidate Bill Bradbury in the Democratic primary. Bradbury touted the success of North Dakota’s state bank. Now the Independent Party primary is underway, and the bank idea is being pitched again by candidate Jerry Wilson, founder and CEO of Soloflex and a longtime progressive activist. On his blog at www.viva-la-revolucion.org Wilson says an OSB would make loans to Oregonians at much lower interest rates than privately owned banks. He suggests 6 percent credit cards, 6 percent CDs and 2 percent mortgage loans. “This bank will save people about seven years of their income over the course of 30 years, just on interest costs,” he says. “The state could earn billions yearly on these loans while saving hefty sums for consumers. It could also refinance its own debts and those of its municipal governments at very low interest rates.” Critics will scream, “Socialism!” but we like the idea of more Oregon competition for Wall Street financial institutions that pay outrageous bonuses while grabbing taxpayer bailouts to survive. An OSB is another way to bring our money home, put it to work in our communities and create local jobs.
• Home sale prices around the state are down again this year, and we see in the July 8 The Source Weekly that Bend property values were down nearly 22 percent over last year on April 1. Ouch. Makes it tough for sellers who can’t hold out for a few years until the market (we hope) improves. Eugene is down 5.5 percent, Corvallis 5.4 percent, Salem 4.8 percent, Portland 5.9 percent. Foreclosures drive down the prices, and it could take years to exhaust that cheap inventory. A lot of renters want to be owners, but it takes two solid incomes per household to qualify for most mortgages these days.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, editor at eugeneweekly dot com