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AG Ferguson joins other western states in requesting to halt expansion of methane gas pipeline

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, right, speaks at a town hall moderated by The Spokesman-Review’s Jim Camden on June 12, 2019, at the Montvale Event Center.  (Libby Kamrowski)

OLYMPIA – Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined other Western state’s attorneys general on Monday in filing a motion to stop the expansion of a methane gas pipeline that would run from Canada to California.

Gas Transmission Northwest asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand its capacity to transport methane gas in a pipeline that runs through the Pacific Northwest, including near Spokane and North Idaho. Gas Transmission Northwest is a pipeline run by Canada-based TC Energy, which also is in charge of the Keystone pipeline system through the northern United States.

Ferguson, along with attorneys general in Oregon and California, filed a motion to intervene and protest the expansion.

“This project undermines Washington state’s efforts to fight climate change,” Ferguson said in a statement. “This pipeline is bad for the environment and bad for consumers.”

The motion says Washington, Oregon and California are concerned with the environmental impact that the pipeline expansion will have, including an increase in air pollution and possibly increasing risks to those who are already disproportionately affected by climate change.

The pipeline expansion would transport about 150 million cubic feet per day of additional methane gas from Canada for sale in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California, according to Ferguson’s office.

It would emit about 3.47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year for the next 30 years, according to his office.

“The reality is, when we expand gas infrastructure, it’s all too often minority, low-income, and Indigenous communities that pay the price,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “I urge FERC to address the deficiencies in its environmental review and comply with the law.”

Ferguson claims that the company is using “faulty assumptions” about the demand for methane gas in the next three decades. The motion says there is “no public necessity” for the increased pipeline capacity as many state policies are already working to reduce regional demand for methane.

In Washington, some recently passed laws to lower methane consumption and fight climate change include setting limits on statewide emissions, requiring electricity to be greenhouse gas neutral by 2030, putting caps on emissions from large polluters and restricting the use of methane and fossil fuels in Washington’s building code.

“The West Coast is experiencing very real impacts of climate change and leading the climate fight, so it is fitting that Oregon, Washington, and California band together on this joint motion asking FERC to take a hard look at this pipeline proposal,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement.

The motion also alleges the company is hiding the true costs of its planned expansion. Ferguson argued the company will charge existing utility customers for the costs of the expansion, which they are framing as upgrades to the system.

The company calculated it would take about 50 years to recover the costs, according to Ferguson, but because the expansion isn’t needed, Ferguson said utility customers would be left to pay for the unused energy infrastructure.

In a statement sent to The Spokesman-Review, TC Energy said the project is designed to upgrade their system to meet “increased demands from our customers in the region.” It will provide a reliable energy to communities throughout the Western U.S.

“Natural Gas is a critical component of any strategy to meet our North American energy needs today and in the future and has contributed to reduced greenhouse gas emissions on the continent,” the statement read. “We are proud of the support GTNXP has received from labor, key communities, stakeholders, and neighbors, and we are committed to continuing our dialogue as we create long-term opportunities, including jobs and economic benefits in the region.”

Gas Transmission Northwest filed its application to expand the pipeline in October. It proposes modifying existing stations in Kootenai County, Walla Walla and Sherman County, Oregon.

The Kootenai County upgrade would not require any mechanical work or ground disturbance, according to the company’s application, but work in Walla Walla and Sherman County would require new facilities.

A draft environmental impact statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June found that there would be “limited adverse impacts on the environment,” though most would be temporary or short-term. There would be minimal effects on existing land, according to the statement.

The commission then recommended the company implement additional mitigation measures and should be attached to any authorization of the project.

The comment period on the draft environmental impact statement ended Monday, and the commission will take the staff’s draft recommendations into consideration when it makes a final decision on the project.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.